Please, pay attention to the Paralympics

It’s high time the Paralympics get as much respect and honor as the Olympics 

To most, the Paralympics are nothing more than that “small event that happens after each Olympic games.” While the Paralympics may seem inconsequential to the majority, the fact so many believe they are so inconsequential is a huge barrier towards real equity for para athletes, let alone people with disabilities. The Paralympics, summer or winter, deserve more attention and respect from the media, and in turn, society. 

Para athletes are no different than their able-bodied counterparts when it comes to the dedication, time, and effort they put into their sport to make it to the top. Yet, the lack of media coverage, attention, and pay these athletes receive would suggest otherwise. In fact, it was only in the recent Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games that American para athletes were finally paid the same amount per medal earned as their fellow Olympians, resulting in a 400% increase in pay. U.S. Olympic athletes earn 37,500 dollars for a gold medal, while prior to Tokyo 2020, U.S. Paralympic athletes only earned 7,500 dollars for a gold medal. It is not short of astonishing that in one of the most developed nations in the world, para athletes were being paid chump change when compared to their Olympian counterparts. 

These disparities between the Paralympics and Olympics exist throughout the world, but countries like the United States have the most access, and therefore no excuses, to stop pushing the Paralympics to the sidelines. In fact, some countries with para athletes that even face more barriers to things such as training and equipment have still managed to show support and respect for their Paralympic athletes. For example, a gold-medalist para athlete from Namibia, Ananias Shikongo, was given a home from Standard Bank (a large Namib bank) for winning the first gold medal for the country. While the United States, or corporate America, does not need to give para athletes homes each time they win a medal, the example of Shikongo goes to show how more America can be doing for their Paralympic athletes.  

Another interesting trait special to the U.S. is the lack of media coverage the Paralympics receive. Tokyo 2020 was the first Paralympics to ever be given primetime slots. Beijing was the first winter Paralympics to be played in primetime slots, giving everyday people the chance to see the games, not just the families of para athletes or people up at two in the morning. The fact that more than just a select group of people can now view the Paralympics is a huge deal, because it promotes the idea that para athletes, and people with disabilities overall, are worth investing in. American media functions so that primetime slots, and really any time slot, are given to programs they believe will rack up good advertising dollars. Long story short: it is all about the money.  Giving the Paralympics primetime slots suggests that these events are worth spending money on to sponsor. In fact, when given the opportunity to be in these new time slots, the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics were able to rack up record viewing numbers across the globe. 

But, primetime does not mean “all the time”. It is still quite a challenge to find a Paralympics event on any of NBC’s library of stations, a stark contrast to the practically around the clock coverage of the Olympics on almost every NBC station.  

At the end of the day, the fight to get the Paralympics on TV and into the media is about more than just proving that they are profitable or that people with disabilities are profitable (even though that is a huge part of creating equity). The Paralympics are one of the largest and most global vehicles to create disability awareness and promote the rights of peoples with disabilities. Uniting people through sport and showing the power in people with disabilities through sport is such an impactful way to change misconceptions of the disability community. And changing perceptions is what sows the seeds for real, substantial change on issues that impact the disability community, from societal respect to accessibility of the physical world. 

It is crazy to imagine that the United States, a country that prides itself on its diverse population, is so far behind in supporting the Paralympics. Consequently, the country, and really the world too, are missing out on an opportunity to feel united through sport, create social awareness, and further the disability rights movement. It is no short of a lost opportunity. But, it really does begin with that everyday person sitting at home, thinking about what to watch on a Friday evening. So, consider turning the channel to the Paralympics (I highly recommend watching Para Alpine Skiing, it’s thrilling) and cheer on team USA. Go out and tell your friends about it. Make watching the Paralympics more than just for the insomniac, because watching and learning about the Paralympics and Paralympians is one baby step in the right direction on the long road of the fight for disability equality.