The 2012 Paralympic Games in London was the largest Paralympic sports event to date, as 4,280 athletes from 166 countries competed in 20 sports categories. The participants may have been from different cultures, but they all came together for the same reason: to compete as athletes.
This July, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' Path to Paralympics: Brazil Sports Diplomacy Program hosted 12 Brazilian athletes and eight coaches with and without disabilities in Chicago to experience that same sense of competition in their sports, and to learn more about disability policy in the United States.
The athletes and coaches had a chance to participate in adaptive sports such as swimming, sailing, and softball, and visited a university campus to learn about accessibility in American schools. Through each of these activities and discussions, the athletes were reminded of the positive lessons sports can teach: equality, inclusion, teamwork, health, and leadership skills.
The Brazilian group also met the Commissioner of the Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, who discussed Chicago’s current disability rights policies and spoke about future challenges. It was there that they also learned about the Americans with Disabilities Act—which recently celebrated its 23rd birthday—and other legislation that impacts persons with disabilities in the United States.The Brazilian athletes and coaches were inspired by American laws that protect the rights of disabled persons.
According to the World Health Organization, more than one billion people around the world live with some form of disability and nearly 200 million of them experience considerable difficulties performing everyday activities. These Brazilian athletes looked to our country as a model for disability rights and inclusion.
Promoting the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities has emerged as a significant human rights and foreign policy issue in the twenty-first century. Through this program, the United States shares and educates about its commitment to protecting the rights of disabled persons.