Thursday, September 15, 2016

Individualizing Victory

The medal ceremony – it is the culmination of athletic competition. Throughout the years, iconic images have been generated during medal ceremonies. Athletes overcome with emotion at seeing their flags raised and singing their national anthems and athletes kissing their medals in appreciation are part of popular imagery.

This is understandable since the medal ceremony recognizes the culmination of an athlete’s competitive endeavors. This sense of accomplishment is particularly meaningful among Paralympians, who reach the pinnacles of their sports despite often overwhelming odds. However, until now athletes with visual impairments have had limited abilities to fully experience the range of individual accomplishment that is part of the sensory aspect of winning a Paralympic medal.

Paralympic medals have traditionally been engraved in braille messages that indicate the medals received. For the Rio 2016 Paralympic games, organizers involved local artists in the creation of new medals featuring internal balls that can be rung to indicate the type of medal won. The pitch levels are different between gold, bronze and silver medals, providing each athlete with an individualized experience based on their accomplishments.

In this way, visually impaired athletes are able to experience a fuller sensory aspect of the medal winning experience. Athletes are also able to receive a personalized reflection of their accomplishments rather than the uniform reflection that is available through the use of braille alone.

Very often, media coverage focuses on winning medals as the pinnacle of the competitive experience for athletes. However, this only tells half the story – the other half is in receiving the medal as the culmination of an athlete’s personal achievement. With the introduction of the new medals at the Rio Paralympic games, it is now possible for athletes to fully experience the knowledge and emotion of their accomplishments in sound and in touch. In this way, the new medals are emblematic of ways in which society can move beyond using a universal mechanism for recognizing those with disabilities and disabled communities and instead create individualized mechanisms of recognition for those with disabilities.  

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