Washington, Sept. 6 – Fully 56 million Americans – one in five – have a disability. Disability does not discriminate – it happens to people of every race, ethnic group, gender and age. It can happen to anyone at any time due to accident, illness or aging. Yet people with disabilities are frequently seen for what they CANNOT do, rather than what they CAN do. The Paralympics show the remarkable physical achievements of serious world-class athletes with disabilities. ESPN has a primer on the Paralympics that is worth reading.
Thanks to NBC, this year’s Paralympics games will have television coverage that is similar to the Olympics television coverage, a first for the Paralympics, which begin tomorrow night. NBC will show 66 hours of the Games, a 60.5-hour increase over the coverage that was given to the London 2012 Paralympics.
This summer’s Paralympics will feature more than 4,300 athletes competing in 22 sports, making this year’s Games the largest to date. The Paralympics is only for people who have one of the 10 eligible impairments, which include visual impairments, amputations and cerebral palsy. To prevent competition where the least impaired athlete always wins, athletes are separated into classes based on the limitations of their impairment. Paralympians spend years training and competing in qualifying competitions to make it to the Paralympics.
Said RespectAbility president Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, “We have a long way to go in how TV shows people with disabilities. For almost five decades, the Jerry Lewis telethon stigmatized people with disabilities by showing what people with disabilities CAN’T do. Now the Paralympics is showing what people CAN do.”
Television in general is making a huge shift in terms of how people with disabilities are portrayed.
“Every Tuesday night at 10/9c on A&E, the Emmy-nominated Born This Way airs, staring a cast of 7 people with Down syndrome,” Mizrahi added. “Born This Way is the first ever series starring a cast with disabilities that has been nominated for three Emmy awards. Soon, ABC’s Speechless will start – a show starring a revolving around the life of a student with cerebral palsy.”
A dramatic video by channel 4 in the UK promotes the Paralympics in a way that is so exciting that close to 6 million people have watched it on YouTube.
NBC’s parent company, Comcast, has an outstanding record of hiring and promoting people with disabilities. Indeed, the ability to speak to a TV remote was invented and implemented by a Comcast team member who is blind.
Binge-watch past Games online
Up until 2013, when NBC acquired rights to broadcast the Games, one of the only ways to watch the Paralympics in the United States was online. People will be able to watch the Rio Games on the NBC networks, but past Games are available online. Fans can watch decades of Paralympics coverage all in one place on the Paralympics YouTube page.