Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Paralympic Games and the Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Paralympic Games and the Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Are the Paralympic Games the world's number one sporting event driving social inclusion? What first took place in Rome in 1960, with 400 athletes from 23 countries, has grown into a global phenomenon that brings together the world's best Para athletes every four years to compete before millions of spectators and billions of television viewers around the world.

In September 2016, the biggest Paralympic Games ever will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 4,350 athletes from 170 countries will compete in 22 sports. Latin America's first Paralympics will be broadcast to more than 125 countries, reaching an estimated audience of over four billion people, the largest-ever audience for the Games. In addition, 2,000 representatives of the world's media will cover the events, sharing news of the outstanding achievements of the Para athletes via radio, print and social media.

As the Games grow in size and scale, their transformational impact on society is also increasing. Over the years, the Paralympics have developed a strong track record for challenging deep-rooted beliefs regarding disability and acting as a catalyst for changing the approach to social inclusion in the countries where the Games are held.

The 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing are a prime example of how the Games can affect a society. The event changed China's approach and attitude towards disability, making its society more inclusive for the country's estimated 83 million people living with an impairment. Prior to the Games, the country was less accessible and, in many ways, less hospitable for anyone living with an impairment. Winning the right to host the 2008 Games triggered action by the Chinese Government to improve the lives of people with disabilities and protect their rights as equal members of society. New legislation on accessibility was passed and, in the seven years leading up to the Games, China spent more than $150 million--equivalent to the last 20 years' investment in accessible infrastructure--on making 14,000 facilities accessible throughout the country. More than $17 million was spent making 60 popular tourist destinations accessible. Elevators and wheelchair ramps were installed along the most popular section of the Great Wall of China, and accessibility was improved at the 600-year-old Forbidden City (Imperial Palace).

China subsequently became one of the first signatories of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international human rights treaty that entered into force on 3 May 2008. On 1 July of that year, the amended Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities came into force. It affirms that the State and society must take measures to improve accessible facilities and provide necessary information in order to enable equal participation in social life for people with an impairment.

Thanks to the Paralympic Games, people in China now have a greater awareness of persons with physical impairments. Chinese citizens with an impairment receive more respect and attention. They enjoy a better social status, improved social security, better educational opportunities, easier access to employment and much more.

Today, the Paralympics benefit from more extensive global media coverage than ever before, amplifying the transformational effect the Games can have. By broadcasting the performances of the world's best Para athletes to billions across the globe, the media contribute to raising awareness about persons with an impairment. This was best exemplified at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, which, during the Closing Ceremony, I proclaimed as the best Paralympics ever.

Before the Games, the United Kingdom was already considered one of the world's leading nations for promoting equality, and I think few people, including myself, foresaw the seismic impact that 12 days of Paralympic sport would have.

The British broadcaster, Channel 4, which rightly won multiple domestic and international awards for their outstanding coverage of the Games, helped our cause considerably. …

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