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Paralympians deliver dwelling gold medals, however we’re failing them on net accessibility

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After successful my first gold medal within the 1972 Paralympics, I went out with the swim crew for a celebratory dinner. I’ll always remember the paradoxical sight of my teammates — all world-class athletes — being carried of their wheelchairs up the few steps into an inaccessible restaurant. Whereas removed from a uncommon prevalence on the time, the stark distinction between that second and our victory within the pool earlier that day made it stand out.

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As I strapped on my braces and slowly made my method up the steps, I mirrored on the irony of the state of affairs. As Paralympic champions, we have been sources of inspiration to hundreds of thousands. We have been breaking down stereotypes and altering perceptions about what disabled folks might accomplish. But whereas we have been celebrated by society, we weren’t accommodated by it.

Accessing many fundamental items and providers required herculean feats of power and agility. Makes an attempt at collaborating totally within the bodily world have been met with hurdles and obstacles. At the moment, it was clear that for the Paralympic motion, which strived to advertise incapacity rights by way of Paralympic sport, the work was not but performed. Actually, it was simply starting.

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Over the next 4 Paralympic video games that I participated in, we started to see the gradual shift towards extra accessible cities. The Paralympic motion performed no small half in that development. By placing a variety of disabled folks on TV around the globe, it introduced the necessity for equal entry from the shadows into the highlight.

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Joseph Wengier and his teammates on the 1980 Paralympics. Wengier is second from left. Picture Credit: Joseph Wengier.

The Paralympics additionally demanded host cities do higher, requiring meaningful and lasting improvements to the accessibility of cities’ infrastructure. Immediately, whereas there’s actually nonetheless a lot room for enchancment, disabled folks have discovered options for many issues and are capable of take part in society greater than ever earlier than.

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But with the web taking an more and more central half in our each day lives, we’re seeing the identical exclusionary practices that we skilled — and fought in opposition to — all these years in the past reappearing in a brand new type. A recent study reviewed the world’s prime 1 million web sites and located accessibility points on the homepages of greater than 97% of them.

A restaurant web site that lacks help for keyboard navigation or doesn’t work correctly with display screen readers can stop an individual who depends on these applied sciences from ordering meals, just like the way in which that lack of wheelchair entry can stop them from getting into the institution.

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Now, with COVID-19 upending our each day routines, the shift on-line has accelerated. An increasing number of companies are going digital, with their web site being the one option to schedule an appointment, purchase groceries or apply for a job. This makes the necessity for accessible web sites extra essential than ever. It’s not a matter of a minor inconvenience or an lack of ability to entry a brand new expertise or service. We’re seeing fundamental day-to-day wants transferring on-line and turning into much less accessible within the course of. It’s this slide backward that has compelled me to speak up and share my story.

As we log on to look at the spotlight clips of our favourite athletes’ performances in Tokyo, take to social media to congratulate them, or go to our favourite sports activities web site to learn the protection of the occasions, let’s demand that these companies make their web sites accessible in order that Paralympic champions can do the identical.

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A current picture of Joseph Wengier at his pc along with his medals within the background. Picture Credit: Joseph Wengier.

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