This week, America’s Paralympians hit the snow and ice in Sochi, where they will compete in five different winter disciplines: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, sled hockey and wheelchair curling. Like their compatriots who competed last month, these elite athletes represent the very best of America — diversity, determination and teamwork.
Even further, they represent America’s spirit of inclusion. And it is my hope that we as a nation will soon advance this spirit even further by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international treaty to promote human rights and respect for the dignity of all people with disabilities that was inspired by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Like the convention, the Paralympics play an important role in advancing disability inclusion internationally. An outgrowth of a 1948 sports competition for British veterans wounded in World War II, the first official Paralympic summer games took place in 1960, and the first winter games took place in 1976. Since 1988, they have taken place directly after and in the same venues as the Olympics.
That was a major step, and one that brought us a little closer to the true meaning of the word “Paralympics,” as the prefix “para” derives from the Greek for “alongside.” This year, we move even closer, with more media coverage than ever before. NBC and NBC Sports Network will broadcast 52 hours of the games, 27 live, and all events will be streamed in real time on TeamUSA.org. Perhaps even more important, we’ve seen a marked increase in inclusion of images of athletes with disabilities alongside those without disabilities in Olympic-themed advertising and promotion.
The Paralympics not only increase inclusion by showcasing the skills of elite athletes like those competing in Sochi. They also increase access to sports for people with disabilities of all skill levels across America and the globe at Paralympic Sport Clubs — every day of every year.
This is where the Paralympics and our work at the Office of Disability Employment Policy intersect — because participation in sports, at any level, has a positive impact on not only the health of people with disabilities, but also their employment outcomes.
The Paralympics are about more than sports; they’re about learning what’s possible. That’s why I’m so excited for the Paralympics, which run through March 16. The thrill of competition is universal. So is the thrill of being in the game — whether on the slopes or in the workplace.
Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.