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Paralympic Winter Games: “Games Changers” help to create “barrier-free minds”

Paralympic Winter Games: “Games Changers” help to create “barrier-free minds”
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20/03/2014

As they look back on the first Winter Paralympic Games ever staged in Russia, the host city Sochi and all those involved in ensuring that the ten-day event was such a spectacular success, have every reason to feel proud. The 2014 edition of the Games provided the Paralympic movement with a number of landmark moments, and also represented a watershed in Russia’s efforts to improve the lives of those living with a disability.

Beyond the record-breaking performances, breath-taking displays of athletic ability and human endeavour, and the constant pushing of physical and mental boundaries, those involved have also helped to lay down foundations for the future, to create a lasting legacy, and to become in the words of IOC Member and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President, Sir Philip Craven, “Games-changers”.

The IPC President hailed the achievements of Sochi in becoming Russia's first truly accessible city, and he claimed the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games would leave a lasting legacy in terms of improving facilities and changing attitudes towards the disabled.

“The plan and the commitment of the Russian government is for this to be spread out over time in legacy format to each of the 80 regions in Russia and that's a fantastic dream of ours to be able to influence and transform the biggest nation in the world,” he said.

Barrier-free minds

In his speech at the Opening Ceremony, Craven referenced the progress that had been made since Russia had refused to host the Paralympics in 1980 when the Olympics came to Moscow, but he stressed the biggest change was yet to come.

“In the same way that the city of Sochi has built a barrier-free environment for athletes and officials to enjoy, I call upon all those who experience these Games to have barrier-free minds too," he said. While the volunteers at London 2012 were known as “Games makers”, Sochi's volunteer force would, according to Craven, come to be seen as “change makers”.

Record-breakers

The Sochi 2014 edition of the Paralympic Winter Games enjoyed unprecedented ticket sales and media interest, building strongly on the momentum created by London 2012. Over nine days of competition, 547 Paralympic athletes from 45 countries took part, competing for 72 sets of medals in five sports. Over 300,000 competition tickets were sold ensuring a virtual sell-out.

Meanwhile, over 2,400 media representatives provided global coverage across print, radio, TV and digital platforms, with host nation Russia alone dedicating a total of 180 hours of coverage via national TV channels. A number of countries, including the USA and Brazil, provided live coverage of the Paralympic Winter Games for the first time.

During the Games, the official website sochi2014.com was visited by more than three million people who, in total, viewed approximately 15 million pages. More than 8,000 volunteers helped in organising the competitions and worked a total of 80,000 shifts during the Games.

The positive impact of the Paralympic Winter Games is already being seen in the host region and throughout the whole of Russia. Thanks to the preparations for Sochi 2014, for the first time, the country is witnessing the development of a truly nationwide volunteer movement, which is helping to bring positive change in society’s attitude towards people with impairment.

On the eve of Russia’s first ever Paralympic Games, more than 1,000 infrastructural sites in Sochi were recognised as accessible. Over the period 2006-2011, the number of Sochi residents with a disability who have become involved in sports has tripled.

Today, the positive impacts of the Games have already being felt not only in the region, but all around the country. To date, approximately 200 Russian cities have already adopted Sochi’s leading example of creating a barrier-free environment, which will help to fully integrate people with disabilities into society.

An invaluable contribution to this feeling is the innovative Accessibility Map project, implemented by the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee and the One Country Support Fund for People with impairment. The Accessibility Map allows people with an impairment to find a place nearby where they can take part in Paralympic sports and obtain information on the nearest barrier-free environment locations. The Accessibility Map currently contains over 14,700 different facilities.

As part of the International Paralympic Committee’s Observer Programme, over 50 events were organised for the Organising Committees of future Games. Their employees spoke about the specifics of preparing for and hosting a Paralympic Games – making a further tangible contribution to the Sochi 2014 legacy.

All of the Paralympic Winter Games venues in and around Sochi were made fully accessible for people with disabilities – including parking, building entrances and exits, and spectator seating.

Meanwhile, transport plans for the Games showed accessible routes between the city and the venues and within the venues and the Olympic Park. During the Games, 327 of the 800 or so buses in use during the Games were accessible to people in wheelchairs.

As part of the infrastructural preparations for the Games, the main transport hubs – railway stations and international airports (Sochi, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar and Adler) – were all in full compliance with the requirements of a barrier-free environment.

Back in Sochi, all of the accommodation for Paralympic athletes was 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, while all of the venues benefited from tactile rails and warnings or visually contrasting paths.

There was also a strong educational component to the preparations for the Games, which it is hoped, will serve as a template that can be rolled out nationwide.

Organising Committee’s staff held approximately 40 training sessions on the “Introduction to the Paralympic Movement and skills required to support people with an impairment” for 5,080 volunteers, drivers, security officers, airport workers, and electric train operators.

Discover the best photos of Sochi 2014

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