As we mark the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on ADA Awareness Day, another milestone promises to further empower individuals with disabilities: In June, the United States Olympic Committee formally changed its name to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC).
The announcement makes the U.S. the fourth country to manage both Olympic and Paralympic sports at the national level, and the only to include both in its name and marks—but the shift signals more than a name change. It builds on decades of advocacy efforts aimed at elevating the public profile of adaptive sports and the Paralympic Games to an equal playing field, from community-based opportunities to the elite, world stage.
“There has been enhanced awareness of Paralympic sport on the whole over the past two decades, culminating with a record-setting performance for Team USA at the PyeongChang Winter Paralympic Games in 2018,” says Cheri Blauwet, MD, Attending Physician at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network and seven-time Paralympic medalist who now serves on the USOPC Board of Directors. “We are now seeing Paralympic athletes treated like the elite athletes they are, becoming household names and, now, having the pride of “Paralympic” represented in the name of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.”
At Spaulding, the move—and the momentum it represents—reinforces a core principle behind patient care: that recreation and sports elevate the physical and mental health of people with disabilities, while elevating their opportunities for community-level empowerment. Spaulding’s wide-ranging adaptive sports program helps people of all abilities, regardless of physical or cognitive impairment, return to the activities they love—whether swinging a golf club or hitting the ski slopes—as a means to heal.
“Society tends to lower expectations for individuals with disabilities,” says Dr. Blauwet. “We work to reset patients’ expectations in a positive way by showing them that a return to sports is not only possible, it can enhance their quality of life immensely through community engagement and physical empowerment.”
In addition to offering adaptive sports programs within the Partners HealthCare network and beyond, and cultivating Paralympic athletes in the community as an official Paralympic Sport Club for Adaptive Sports, Spaulding works to educate health practitioners on the benefits of adaptive sports through a partnership with the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Health Professions. Separately, research through the Kelley Adaptive Sports Research Institute helps shed light on the impact of adaptive sports programs like Spaulding’s. And continued advocacy through organizations such as USOPC helps to catalyze awareness, support, and resources for Paralympic sports, at both the elite and grassroots levels.
“The USOPC news is welcomed wholeheartedly—yet it’s just one brushstroke in a larger picture of people with disabilities participating in and lifting up our society at every level,” says Dr. Blauwet. “We will continue to work to ensure that sports and recreation are available to all.”