It was called the 9th "Stoke Mandeville Games for the Paralysed" and was the first time when the lads had gotten away from Buckinghamshire. Only later did it get rebranded as the 1st Paralympic Games - it's a bit like King James of the Bible being James I of England and James VI of Scotland. Margaret Maugham won the gold medal for archery [see R] in 1960 and gave and gave to the paralympic movement for years afterwards. She was reflecting that those first games were held immediately after the reg'lar 1960 Rome Olympiad and the competitors were housed in the recently vacated Olympic Village. Each athlete was assigned two squaddies from the Italian Army to bring them up and down the several flights of stairs between beds and buses. That was the pragmatic solution to wheelchair access in the years when the occupants of wheelchairs were bluntly called The Paralysed. The paras were delighted with the care and attention they received from the Italians "We had packed lunches delivered. We thought they were lovely - they each had a bottle of wine."
About 40 years later, just as the Celtic Tiger was starting to flex its muscles, I used to walk past the offices of the Irish Wheelchair Association in Fenian St, Dublin 2. Every morning someone used to put out a little plywood ramp, so that it was accessible by people in wheelchairs. I spend a few weeks pointing out the irony of the situation to anyone who'd listen and asking rhetorically if Ireland Inc. could not afford £250 of ready-mix concrete and some shuttering to do that properly. At about the same time there was an event at a public building in Dublin when the President was going to honour a citizen in a wheelchair. The Office of Public Works were on to it: they got in some scaffolding and planks and rigged up a system that made it possible for the honoured guest to attend her own gig. But the honoured guest refused to accept such a temporary and undignified delivery system - she was not a barrow of blocks and a bag of cement. She thought that things should have moved on since Jesse Owens had to use the service entrance of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. And just how wheelchair-accessible would that building be the following week after the celebrities had gone home?
At some point we'll have to put a cap on making everything [The top of Croagh Patrick [prev]? The Camino de Santiago? Mt Everest? Thoor Ballylee? Every bus and train? Every car? Every toilet? Every house?] wheelchair accessible in the same way that we'll have to put a cap on the amount the state is prepared to spend on minority medications. But I don't think we're there yet. The VP of Paralympics Ireland, for example, couldn't get access to her polling station in the Spring 2016 elections for example.
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