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Sports and the CRPD

November 12, 2012

By Julia R. Wolhandler, USICD Intern

Runners at Paralympics

Featured in the photo from the men’s 100m final in the London 2012 Paralympics, from Left to right: Arnu Fourie of South Africa (Bronze), Jonnie Peacock of Great Britain (gold), Richard Browne of the United States (Silver) and Oscar Pistorius of South Africa (Fourth place).

As the XVISummer Paralympics came to an end this summer in London, I looked back on my own involvement with sports. And in doing so, I couldn’t help but contemplate the future of sports for people with disabilities in relation to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and how it further integrates people with disabilities and veterans in sports, recreation, and leisure.

My interest in sports has always been great. I love the freedom and excitement it gives me and the family that is created by being a part of a team. My sport of choice was track, but this choice was not an easy one. During most races I was placed as the lead runner for my relay team, meaning I started the race. Crouching down in the blocks I would eagerly wait for the sound of the gun to go off which meant I could start

Having an auditory processing disorder does not help when trying to be the quickest one out of the blocks. I often was a second behind the gun-which in competitive terms is a lot! I will never forget when I finally asked for an accommodation. I asked the referee if he could stand in front of my line of vision so that I could see him better when he lifted the gun. The response was NO. I tried a few more times at different races. Sometimes they were accommodating but most times they did not comprehend my request and I was stuck anxiously waiting for the sound of the gun and then sprinting as fast as I could out of the blocks.

Julia Running

Julia Wolhandler, 2005, running and passing off the baton.

Despite the obstacles, I was one of the fastest runners in my region.  For years I dreamed of going to the Olympics, but eventually my goal was crushed by a knee injury I sustained from running competitively. Looking back now I wonder how things could have been different and looking forward I wonder how things have changed since then for other students with physical, auditory, visual, and mental disabilities

The CRPD is the first legally binding treaty that recognizes the right of people with disabilities to have equal participation in recreation, leisure, and sport. Article 30.5 of the CRPD encourages and promotes the participation of people with disabilities in both mainstream sports and activities on all levels and in disability-specific sporting and recreational activities. This twin-track approach allows people with disabilities to have full participation in whatever sporting event they may choose and to have equal access and rights to training and resources regarding recreation, leisure, and activity.

With 125 countries and the European Union having ratified the CRPD and the disability community gaining more coverage, this year’s Paralympics has been the most attended Paralympics in its history. Historically, the Paralympic games consisted of veterans as the athletes who continue to represent their countries following their heroic service. Today, not only do veterans continue to gain a presence in the games, but they are joined by people with a range of disabilities from diverse backgrounds. As shown in studies done by the University of British Columbia in 2010, the Paralympics have not only impacted the lives of athletes with disabilities, but it has also brought about a change in infrastructure and attitudes about the disability community throughout the countries in which the Paralympics have been held.

I try not to dwell much on the past. The best thing to do is to look forward. Everyday brings change and thanks to the CRPD, the global disability community will continue to break down environmental and social barriers and fight for the inherent dignity and equal rights of all people.  As a nation that has been at the forefront for disability rights around the world, I hope that the United States will ratify the CRPD and continue to strengthen and broaden the rights of people with disabilities both nationally and internationally. As I watched Oscar Pistorious compete in the Olympics, I realized that the world of sport is more inclusive and equal than ever, and thanks in no small part to the CRPD.

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