A few weeks ago, every conversational gambit began with, “Were you watching the Olympics last night when…?” Once again, televised coverage of the winter Olympics taking place this year in Vancouver, British Columbia was our quadrennial national obsession, an excuse to gather everyone in front of the T.V. to cheer on Team USA. I didn’t watch too much of the winter Olympics this year, but it did occur to me: Wouldn’t it be truly wonderful if Americans could also be swept away by the Paralympic winter games?
Fortunately, the major networks are giving Americans an opportunity. NBC Sports, Universal Sports and GE are sponsoring Paralympic programming for their broadcast coverage of highlights of the 2010 Paralympic Games. Coverage on NBC Sports will include a one-hour program recapping the Opening Ceremony on Saturday, March 13 (1-2 p.m. ET) and a two-hour highlights program on Saturday, April 10 (3-5 p.m. ET). I congratulate them for their efforts.
In addition, Universal Sports will broadcast, for nine consecutive nights, a nightly two-hour show, covering the daily competition of the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, beginning on Monday, March 15 at 6 p.m. ET (re-aired at 11 p.m. ET) and continuing nightly through Tuesday, March 23. UniversalSports.com will offer on-demand re-airs of the Universal Sports television coverage, plus full-length event rewinds. You can also go to www.usparalympics.org for daily video and news highlights of the competition from Vancouver.
The Paralympics, for people with physical disabilities, take place immediately after the Olympics. This year five competitive sports will be included: Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross country skiing, sled hockey and wheelchair curling.
Here’s five reasons why it’s so important to broadcast the Paralympics.
1. Raise awareness. Globally, there are 1.2 billion people with disabilities and the Paralympics provides representation for this group. People who don’t know anyone with a disability, or who have thought of the disabled only in terms of ramps and elevator braille, will be presented with a whole new picture of talented athletes who personify the same kind of courage and discipline and dedication and talent as their non-disabled counterparts.
2. Change attitudes. By watching the Paralympics, perhaps more Americans, while marveling at the extraordinary skill and talent of Paralympians, will find it easier to see people with disabilities in terms of what they can do, instead of getting stuck on their disabilities.
3. Encourage kids with disabilities. Children with disabilities will benefit from seeing Paralympians demonstrating in front of the whole world their athleticism, self confidence and the actualization of long-nurtured dreams. I love thinking about children with disabilities from across the globe smiling and clapping and feeling better about themselves and their futures!
4. Inspire families. The Paralympics will also be good for moms and dads and grandparents and aunties and uncles as well, not to mention school-teachers and scout leaders and anyone else in children’s lives who are too likely to tell them all the reasons why they can’t do what they want to do instead of encouraging them to reach for the stars, climb the monkey bars, swim in the deep end, strap on skates, or trundle off to the highest sledding hill with the rest of the neighborhood kids!
5. Level the playing field. The Olympics may be our national obsession, but it’s still segregated from the Paralympics. It’s great that NBC Sports and Universal Sports are giving America an almost-equal opportunity to see powerful images of young men and women with disabilities as they fly down icy tracks and mountainsides (and make the rest of us — disabled or not — feel somewhat ashamed of our preference for firesides over the snowy depths of mid-winter hometowns.)
As far as I’ve been able to learn, no video description will be provided for the broadcast coverage. Of course, I would prefer every televised event to be verbally described for those of us who cannot access the visual information on the screen.
As a blind television viewer, however, I find that during sporting events, the non-stop explanations and clarifications provided by network commentators and others are quite adequate for providing verbal description of the action on the screen, and I would expect this to be the case for Paralympic coverage as well. Captioning for deaf viewers will be provided. Let the games begin!