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The 2014 Paralympic Games: Did anyone watch?

The 2014 Paralympic Games concluded recently after nine days of competition featuring 547 athletes from 45 countries. Over 300,000 tickets were sold making this the most successful Paralympics in history. Russian television broadcasted over 180 hours of coverage within the country. NBC and NBCSN offered 50 hours of coverage in the USA during the competitions.

There were over 2,400 members of the international media on site in Sochi making these Paralympic Games the most widely covered Winter Paralympic Games in history. However, these Games were also conducted during the standoff between the Russian government and the country of Ukraine over the Crimean peninsula. The standoff continues with Russian troops massed in the Black Sea and on the ground in Crimea. International news media continues to cover the crisis in the Ukraine because of its potential impact on all of Western Europe.

Back to the Paralympic Games did anyone even bother to watch let alone learn which country won the most medals? The Russian Team ran away with the medal count with 80 medals. Ukraine finished second with 25 followed by the United States with 18, Canada scored 16 and Germany finished with 15.

Russia spent almost $100 million on the Winter Paralympic Games making it the most costly Paralympic Games ever held. In spite of the outstanding performances of the athletes from around the world, the Paralympic Games remain virtually invisible in the United States. As college basketball teams race towards conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament the sports world seems to be uninterested in the Paralympics.

While the International Olympic Committee demands that bid and host cities include provisions for the Paralympic Games for both winter and summer competitions, the Paralympics is always overshadowed by the larger Olympic competition. Over the years there have been factions who have urged the IOC to consider having the Paralympics precede the Olympics as a way to test systems, venues and volunteers. However, the IOC has steadfastly remained opposed to this idea as they do not want the Paralympic events to diminish the stature of the Olympic Games.

However, the news is not all bad. For example the Paralympics in Russia resulted in a much greater level of accessibility for citizens and visitors within Russia. During preparations for the Games, the main and reserve transportation hubs - railway stations and international airports (Sochi, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar and Adler) - were in full compliance with the requirements of a barrier-free environment.

All buildings where Paralympic athletes lived were equipped with ramps, elevators with accompanying sound, wide hallways and accessible bathrooms and showers. In addition, signs with braille or raised letters were specially installed for visually impaired athletes.

For the visually impaired in the Olympic Park and at all Games venues, tactile rails and warnings or visually contrasting paths were installed. On the steps of stairs and on transparent surfaces a warning was placed in contrasting stripes.

So in spite of the lack of interest on television there is a legacy left within Russia and perhaps beyond as awareness of disabilities of all citizens is integrated into our culture. Moreover, there will always be a need to accommodate their access to all facilities no matter of their disability. In that regard, the Paralympics has to be considered a success.

Athletes also had a chance to make new friends and inspire others with disabilities to be the best they can be. If you have never seen these extraordinary athletes compete, make an effort to do so next time you have the opportunity. These athletes have overcome obstacles that most people will never have to endure. Their success on the competition fields should inspire us all to be more aware of their challenges but also of their desire to be integrated into our society with no limitation on access that most of us enjoy.

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