Paralympic athletes take home gold medals, but we’re failing them in web accessibility


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 vision of my teammates, all world-class athletes, riding the few steps to an inaccessible restaurant in wheelchairs. Although far from being rare at the time, the stark contrast between that moment and our victory in the pool that same day made it stand out.

As I put on my braces and slowly walked up the stairs, I reflected on the irony of the situation. As Paralympic champions, we were an inspiration to millions. We were breaking stereotypes and changing perceptions of what disabled people could achieve. However, although we were celebrated by society, it did not accommodate us.

Access to many basic goods and services required enormous feats of strength and agility. Attempts to participate fully in the physical world were met with obstacles and obstacles. At the time, it was clear that for the Paralympic movement, which strove to promote the rights of people with disabilities through Paralympic sport, the work was not done yet. In fact, it was just beginning.

During the next four Paralympic Games that I participated in, we began to see a gradual shift towards more accessible cities. The Paralympic movement played an important role in that advance. By putting a wide range of people with disabilities on television around the world, he highlighted the need for equitable access from the shadows.

Joseph Wengier and his teammates at the 1980 Paralympic Games. Wengier is second from left. Image credits: Joseph Wengier.

The Paralympic Games also demanded that host cities do better, requiring significant and lasting improvements to the accessibility of the infrastructure of cities. Today, while it is true that there is still much room for improvement, people with disabilities have found solutions to most problems and can participate in society more than ever.

However, with the Internet taking an increasingly central role in our daily lives, we are seeing the same exclusionary practices that we experienced, and fought against, all those years ago reappearing in a new form. TO recent study reviewed the world’s top 1 million websites and found accessibility issues on the home pages of more than 97% of them.

A restaurant website that lacks keyboard navigation support or does not work properly with screen readers can prevent a person who relies on these technologies from ordering food, similar to how a lack of wheelchair access can prevent them. enter the establishment.

Now, with COVID-19 changing our daily routines, the change online has accelerated. More and more companies are going digital, and their website is the only way to schedule an appointment, buy food, or apply for a job. This makes the need for accessible websites more critical than ever. It is not a minor inconvenience or inability to access a new technology or service. We are seeing basic day-to-day needs moving online and becoming less accessible in the process. It is this backsliding that has forced me to talk loud and share my story.

As we go online to view featured clips of our favorite athletes’ performances in Tokyo, use social media to congratulate them, or visit our favorite sports site to read coverage of events, let’s demand that these companies make their websites accessible so that Paralympic champions can do the same.

A recent image of Joseph Wengier on his computer with his medals in the background. Image credits: Joseph Wengier.

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