Sochi, Russia — Eric Gissendanner is covering the Winter Paralympics from Sochi, Russia, for the Wheelchair Sports Federation. He is also sending journal entries of his experiences exclusively for use in the Press-Republican.
ATMOSPHERE: “After a full week spent here, I would like to do a quick reflection on the accessibility here at the Games.
“A wheel-chair user, I arrived in town via plane, train and automobile just in time for last Friday’s opening ceremonies. The ceremonies were much like the Olympic Games, as athletes from all countries came out and enjoyed a lap around Fisht Olympic Stadium. The nation introductions were then followed by opening addresses from the International Paralympic Committee president and other Paralympic representatives.
“With the Games officially opened upon the torch lighting, the atmosphere among those in the building was electric.”
NAVIGATION: “The superstar buzz was and continues to be vital as the week progresses. Since the Paralympics first began in 1960, no Russian city has played host. The instilled attitude toward those with disabilities was that of subordination. It was this notion that made people concerned about a small Russian town on the Black Sea hosting something as major as the Paralympics given the accommodations needed for those with physical disabilities. Accommodations like ramps, elevators and larger bathrooms are abundant in the United States, but are not so much universal.
“Though I have been here just a few days, Sochi has met and exceeded expectations. Facilities are clean, accessible and easy to navigate through. There are signs pointing you where to go, and staff members are more than willing to lend a hand with anything that may be needed. Not counting competition officials, medical personnel and security, every event staff member is a volunteer.
“After hearing some horror stories from the Olympics, (dirty drinking water, incomplete facilities and unfurnished hotel rooms) I was skeptical, but the powers that be made sure to get everything ready for Paralympic action.