Andy Palmer: It’s wrong to say deaf people weren’t treated like second class citizens at the 2012 Paralympics

Posted on January 28, 2014

The IPC (International Paralympic Committee) have dismissed claims that deaf spectators and athletes were treated as ‘second class’ at the 2012 games in London.

Craig Crowley, former President of the ICDS (International committee deaf sports) said in a discussion with me on the BBC World Service that despite the best endeavours of the organisers of the Olympics and Paralympics, deaf athletes and spectators still felt ‘second class’. But an IPC spokesman hit back on Saturday in a statement to the BBC:

“We refute any allegation that deaf athletes or spectators were made to feel like second-class citizens at the best Paralympic Games ever.”

Craig Crowley

Craig Crowley

It’s a disappointing reaction from the IPC, especially since Mr Crowley is deaf and was relaying what he had been told by other deaf people. A refreshing reaction would be to offer to discuss the feedback and find out more.

They could have said they take this kind of thing seriously. Mr Crowley, after all, is the former President of an international sporting organisation.

But no. As far as the IPC are concerned, Craig Crowley is making it up. Case closed.

It was a very disheartening response for anyone, like me, who hopes deaf athletes have the chance to participate in the Paralympics as equals. Listening to deaf people is crucial to that integration – part of the foundations.

The involvement of deaf people at the 2012 Paralympics, in an absolutely non-sporting sense, was critical. There were many deaf performers in the opening and closing ceremonies.

Deaf directors Ted Evans and Bim Ajadi co-directed the pre-opening ceremony film. There was an interpreter (yes, a real one) standing next to the Queen as she officially opened the games and the opening ceremony itself was co-directed by Jenny Sealey, who is deaf.

If the IPC wanted evidence of deaf spectators not being fully included then they could have just asked Mr Crowley, but if they won’t do that, then Channel Four News gives us a flavour of it here. A deaf couple, Mr and Mrs Mudawi, were interviewed inside the Olympic Park in 2012 and asked what they thought of it.

Ironically, and almost to make the point, there are no subtitles on this video but in summary, the signage around the park is great but deaf people were excluded from knowing what’s going on in the BeatBox and the 3D Cinema show because it did not have subtitles. Basic, but common error on the part of the organisers.

There was some confusion caused by the ‘Games Makers’ (volunteers) who were shouting about at the entrance to the Olympic Park. There was no equivalent in sign language which led Mr Mudawi to ask one if there was anything he needed to know. “We’re just saying hello” was the reply. Needless to say, he could have been saved that embarrassment.

To the layman, they may seem like small things; but imagine if that 3D cinema at the Paralympics was only accessible by climbing a couple of flight of stairs. It’s impossible to contemplate for long because it just wouldn’t happen; there is no way that wheelchair users would not be granted easy access to enjoy that 3D cinema.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for deaf people, despite all they did for the games – at which they are not permitted to compete.

Craig Crowley was right to say what he did and the IPC, if they care about equality, should want to know more.

Update: Lidia Best adds:  “It wasn’t just the Paralympics, it was the Olympics as well and all complaints I have known about were dismissed and brushed under the carpet. The biggest gripe : no access to BBC Big Screens via subtitling at the venue and difficult to lipread ticket attendants in the darkened glass booth.”

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. Andy volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events as well as working for a hearing loss charity. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP (all views expressed are his own).

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