I follow several pages on social media that focus on disability awareness and issues of public accessibility. One issue that popped up in late April really got to me.
TravelPulse reported then that Japanese hotels were demanding that International Paralympic Committee officials pay them to make rooms handicapped accessible ahead of next year’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
“The Tokyo organizing committee claims that Tokyo has 700 accessible rooms,” TravelPulse wrote, “but an unnamed senior figure in a British sport says that in reality, there are probably less than 100 accessible rooms by European standards, as Tokyo hotels are generally smaller with narrower hallways and doors.
Okay, so that’s a big problem. But it gets even worse.
TravelPulse added that the hotels wanted Paralympic officials to pay them to convert the rooms back to being non-accessible again after the Games.
I know some of you reading this have stayed in handicapped accessible hotel rooms. When you walked through the door and checked things out did you ever think to yourself nope, this just won’t work for me. The bathroom is way too spacious!
That’s not to say that hotels always get it right when accommodating the disabled. They too frequently still fall short, but converting the rooms back to their previous state is just an absurd idea.
Fortunately, the Japanese government stepped in and announced that all converted rooms will remain accessible as a “legacy” of the Games.
You know, though, TravelPulse really gets it wrong by questioning why the IPC would choose to host the Games in Japan.
Since 2001 the IPC and the International Olympic Committee have operated under an agreement that both the Olympics and the Paralympics are held in the same city. And which committee do you think has more clout in the bidding process, the IOC or the IPC?
So when Japan put in a bid to host the Olympics it knew it was getting the Paralympics, too. The country’s words and actions then send a message that the disabled are less than. That we don’t matter. And sadly that message is not uncommon, even in the United States.
The IOC made a major statement last week, though, by changing its name to the International Olympic and Paralympic Committee. That follows the U.S. Olympic Committee’s vote in September to bring payouts for Paralympic medal performances in line with those of Olympic medalists. (The U.S. Paralympic team won 36 medals at last year’s Winter Games in South Korea, the most of any country.)
You don’t think these things are a big deal until you’re on the wrong end of it. It matters. Representation matters. Consideration matters. Equality matters. I’m glad Olympic officials, and maybe even countries like Japan, are finally realizing that.
Mike Hautamaki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.