Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Rio’s Disabled Face Barriers Despite Paralympics

According to the official website for the Rio Olympics and Paralympics, organizers assured that both competitions would allow for full accessibility.

“We are going to offer locations free of obstacles, plan transport for Rio 2016 clients inside the principles of universal design, incorporate accessibility criteria into accommodation plans, provide an accessible and inclusive workplace, use accessible communication tools, as well as making partners and employees aware of accessibility, encouraging the adoption of new behavior,” planners boasted. But as the Paralympics is opened tonight, those pledges detailed by event organizers have not been fully realized.

A recent investigation by Brazil’s O Globo noted that despite the influx of an estimated 4350 athletes and estimated quarter of a million tourists including 10% with special needs, problems plague Rio’s infrastructure, transport, and accessibility for the disabled. Despite more than seven years of planning prior to the Paralympics, obstacles continue to abound including the lack of wider sidewalks, ramps to cross the street and wheelchair accessible restrooms.

Tale the case of Claudecir Lopes, a 37-year-old who O Globo described as a “muscular” person using a wheelchair since he became paralyzed at the age of thirteen. He recently made his way through the railway station at Deodoro, one of the areas were several Olympic sports were held including equestrian and rugby sevens. Lopes made his way to the platform by ascending a ramp but noted that the entrance to the train was nearly one foot above the platform. No railway workers were present to answer hiss calls for assistance though he was eventually able to enter the train with the help of two passengers.

“I would have missed that train had it not been for the solidarity of the users,” Lopes explained. “I would like to move around without the help of anyone. This is not a matter of pride, but rather a matter of freedom,” he added.

Other transportation options hardly fare much better. The Silva Freire station may have gone under extensive renovations but trains are said to be a dangerous sixteen inches above the platforms. The bus rapid transit system, which was inaugurated in 2012, has an absence of tactile floors caused one visually impaired man to fall while trying to board a vehicle. Rio officials promised to have 400 taxis equipped for special needs riders yet a study found that number is only forty.

“No host city of the (Paralympic) Games has held the event in complete accessibility. Not even London (in 2012),” declared the head of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee, Andrew Parsons. “I believe that Rio has vastly improved,” he added. It’s a point partially conceded by some Brazilian disabled rights activists in a country where all public buildings and sports venues are legally obligated to have ramps, elevators or other accommodations for people with mobility issues. Yet special needs visitors to the Olympics held last month encountered difficulties at event locations with the designs of sites, apparent lack of proper training for volunteers, and absence of foresight in dealing with spectators having special needs:
"Obviously we're learning and making adaptations as we do across the games in all areas, including accessibility," Rio 2016's press office said in a statement. Most volunteers did an online module about accessibility before general on-site training, and new training for Paralympics volunteers starts next week.

Still, many of the 50,000 existing volunteers remain poorly informed about accessibility, said Goulart. The reason golf carts are scarce isn't because there aren't enough of them: it's because organizers failed to account for recharging their batteries, which can take as long as eight hours, she said.

Without carts, people in wheelchairs have struggled to climb long or steep ramps at some stadiums. After Usain Bolt won the 100-meter dash at the Engenhao arena on Aug. 14, departing spectators had to help push a disabled man in a wheelchair up a ramp to the railway station's entrance. The ramp was built specifically for the Olympics.
A cash crunch from budget woes and low ticket sales (approximately one million of the 2.4 million seats have gone unsold) led organizers nearly three weeks ago to reorganize transportation services and reduce some of the Paralympics personnel. Not a very encouraging sign for the Paralympics that was supposed to promote inclusiveness but may end up creating more hardship for athletes, visitors, and (perhaps most importantly) Rio residents with disabilities.

YouTube Source – tvbrasil 

Online Sources (English) – BBC Sport, Chicago Tribune, Rio 2016

Online Sources (Portuguese) – O Globo

Online Sources (Spanish) - Marca

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