After two weeks at Republican and Democratic conventions, I was a bit disheartened. The sheer amount of U.S. government money spent could put a lot of people through college. By last count, just the federal government spending was $136 million both on the “grant” to the two parties and the money for security. That amount does not include local government contributions in Tampa and Charlotte and the personal security of the president and Gov. Romney and others in the administration.
By luck, two days after the DNC convention I took off for South Sudan, spending a night’s layover in London. It was a lucky choice as it was the last full night of the 2012 Paralympics. It was still early in the United States, so I stayed up and watched the show. It was as exciting as the “other” Olympics.
Going through customs in England, an immigration officer told me that England embraced the Paralympics. He said Londoners were just as excited. All around the airport were pink signs welcoming these athletes. I watched television carefully for empty seats in the stadium and could not find many. It was filled, and people were cheering. Newspapers were filled with blow-by-blow accounts of who was winning, judging disputes and people whose hopes and dreams were met and people whose hopes and dreams were shattered.
The medal count was duly reported, and China took home more gold and more medals than the United States. My math puts it at 221 medals for China, 99 medals for Great Britain and 91 medals for the United States. That should give us pause. We are famous for our legislation for people with disabilities and our curb cuts and bells that tell blind people when to cross the street. Yes, China has about four times the number of people that the U.S. has, therefore giving it more people to train and choose from. However, China beating Team USA twice in the medal count should concern us. We are supposed to be the champion country of diversity and acceptance, not China. Watching the Paralympic Games on television yesterday, it is clear we have a long way to go in the disabilities department.
The London Independent wrote an article titled, “Will these Paralympics make a difference?” It outlined some of the challenges that Britain faces, and they mirror our own. Although many more buses were fitted for wheelchairs for the games, the “Action for Access” campaign in England said in the interview with the Independent, “Often, there’s a sense that if you have a ramp or level access than people have ticked the accessible box, though there’s more to it than that. … There are still a great number of places that people just can’t get into which means that people are excluded from society.
The Independent also pointed out that in England, half the disabled people are working compared to three-quarters of people who have full abilities. In other overlooked areas, they pointed out that not all physical education teachers are trained to teach students who have disabilities. My foster son, who was blinded by his Arab slave master in South Sudan, is on the track team at Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts. He runs along a guided track and won a medal for the fastest in the school. He was so proud of his medal that he brought it to his village in South Sudan to show it to his uncle. It’s made a huge difference in his life. Now, he wants to learn competitive swimming. People react to him as a winner and as an accomplished high school athlete, not as a disabled student.
This kind of sport for the disabled makes a huge difference in all of our lives. The cheering, the competition and the stories of the medal winners and losers in the 2012 Paralympic games should be a lesson and inspiration to all of us. It should be a real message that by failing to make accommodations for our disabled citizens, America loses out.
China gets it. If China gets it, so should the USA.