While the United States claims to be the leader in many things, equality is still not one of them. Growing up, I never saw anyone on television in a wheelchair – unless it was on a local telethon or some other pity fest. Hollywood, the music industry, the fashion industry and even athletics all lacked diversity enough to show people with disabilities. I had no heroes or even someone to look up to. I thought that independence was a pipe dream – if I even made it into adulthood. Everyone always said that I would succeed and be able to truly follow my dreams. I’m not sure I ever truly believed it because I never SAW anyone like me. Not on television, not in newsprints. We didn’t have the internet, so my exposure to people in wheelchairs was based upon my particular community.
Today, kids in wheelchairs have access to a much broader, wider world. They can become the fan of a person in a wheelchair. Even Hollywood occasionally has the actor in a wheelchair. If that’s not good enough, you can go to YouTube and watch shows like My Gimpy Life or turn on Sundance to find Push Girls – featuring real, people with disabilities. The ParaOlympics is available online. It just isn’t being featured, here, in the United States, on network television. What is sad is that it IS being featured in 100 other countries – more than any other ParaOlympic games. When nations like Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan host the ParaOlympics, but the United States doesn’t that, to me, is a problem!
Fox Sports reports that, “International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven says he is ”very disappointed” there will only be 5.5 hours of coverage – none of it live – in the United States, where NBC owns the rights.”
So, NBC owns the rights to the games, but they refuse to feature it? Hardworking Americans are competing in the games. In fact, a friend I’ve known for years, from Toledo, Ohio, just won a bronze medal in the Discus event. Zena “Ogie” Cole has been training for years to go and represent the United States. She has competed all over the world and broke ParaOlympic records. Now she is repping the U.S. with a Bronze Medal and nobody, except those who know her personally, had the honor of seeing her compete and win! Plenty of people would watch the ParaOlympics, if it were on AND it would also show the world that those of us with disabilities are not incapable invalids with little to do with our lives. We are more. We a whole. We are successful when given the chance to succeed.
The United States is obsessed with image. So, we don’t look like we’re supposed to look. That doesn’t make us ugly. It makes us spectacular. We use technology to move. That doesn’t make us weird, it makes us innovative. We work hard. We play hard. We make things happen. We’re not inspirations because of our disabilities. We’re inspirations because we are as good or better as the non-disabled people that are also considered inspirations. We are not inspiring because we get out of bed or get dressed and out of our house. The only inspiration we want to be is when doing something spectacular for ANY standards. We would rather inspire young people with disabilities to live their life to the fullest, because that is the kind of inspiration we wish to bring. How can we do that if these kids do not SEE us? If they see the ParaOlympics, then they can be inspired to play sports and live active lives, in spite of their disabilities. That is what is truly important.
It is also important to honor and acknowledge the achievements of the hardworking athletes who compete in the ParaOlympics every year. They exemplify the best of the best in strength, integrity, hard work and perseverance and deserve the same recognition every other athlete deserves. Period.