After winning my first gold medal at the 1972 Paralympic Games, I went out with the swim team for a celebratory dinner. I will never forget the paradoxical sight of my teammates – all world-class athletes – carried in their wheelchairs up a few steps into an inaccessible restaurant. While far from a rare occurrence at the time, the stark contrast between that moment and our victory in the pool earlier today made it stand out.
As I put on my suspenders and slowly walked up the stairs, I reflected on the irony of the situation. As Paralympic Champions, we have been a source of inspiration for millions of people. We were breaking down stereotypes and changing perceptions about what people with disabilities could accomplish. Yet while we were celebrated by society, we were not accommodated by it.
Access to many basic goods and services required Herculean feats of strength and agility. Attempts to participate fully in the physical world have encountered obstacles and obstacles. At that time, it was clear that for the Paralympic movement, which was striving to promote the rights of people with disabilities through Paralympic sport, the job was not yet done. In fact, it was only just beginning.
Over the next four Paralympic Games that I participated in, we started to see the gradual shift towards more accessible cities. The Paralympic movement played a significant role in this advance. By putting a wide range of people with disabilities on television around the world, he has highlighted the need for equal access from the shadows.
The Paralympic Games also demanded that host cities do better, requiring significant and lasting improvements in the accessibility of cities’ infrastructure. Today, while there is certainly still a lot of room for improvement, people with disabilities have found solutions to most problems and are more able than ever to participate in society.
Yet with the internet taking an increasingly central place in our daily lives, we are seeing the same exclusionary practices that we experienced – and fought against – all these years ago reappearing in a new form. . A recent study reviewed the world’s top one million websites and found homepage accessibility issues for over 97% of them.
A restaurant website that does not support keyboard navigation or that does not work well with screen readers can prevent someone who relies on these technologies from ordering food, in the same way that they do. a lack of wheelchair access may prevent him from entering the facility.
Now, with COVID-19 disrupting our daily routines, online change has accelerated. More and more businesses are going digital, with their websites the only way to book an appointment, shop for groceries or apply for a job. This makes the need for accessible websites more critical than ever. This is not a minor inconvenience or an inability to access a new technology or service. We are seeing basic daily needs evolve online and become less and less accessible. It is this hindsight that prompted me to speak up and share my story.
As we go online to watch the best snippets of our favorite athletes’ performances in Tokyo, take to social media to congratulate them, or visit our favorite sports site to read coverage of the events, let’s ask these companies to make their websites accessible so that Paralympic champions can do the same.