Candace Cable poses on the red carpet before the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame Class of 2019 Induction Ceremony on November 1, 2019 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The Summer Paralympic Games were supposed to be held in Moscow alongside the Olympics in 1980.
However, when the Soviet Union was offered the bid to host the sixth Summer Paralympics, they declined, notoriously claiming that the country had no one with a disability to compete in the Games.
It’s a story Paralympic Hall of Famer Candace Cable said she recalls frequently to illustrate how ableism and exclusion have been forces to overcome for centuries.
Cable says everyone in the world deals with a level of internalized ableism, using herself as an example.
Before a car accident in 1975 that caused a spinal cord injury, Cable had very little interaction with anyone with a disability. She admitted she felt confused and alone for a period after the accident.
“I went into therapy to be able to figure out how I could get new skills and techniques to deal with the stress of it,” she said.
“There was a large overhanging, dark cloud of exclusion that followed me around physically and emotionally... People would stare at me.”
Cable never liked sports when she was younger, avoiding physical and competitive activity in high school, but she found a place that accepted her in the adaptive sport community of California after her accident.
“I definitely was one of the girls that when I was playing tennis and scored a point, I was like, ‘Oh, sorry.’ I did not want any type of confrontation in my life. I was a peacemaker,” she said.
Like so many other people who have suffered tragedy and found solace in adaptive sport, she became an advocate, fighting for more opportunities to compete. Her group traveled across the country to meet with race directors, working to get wheelchair racers and adaptive events into competitions. The goal was to show people how simple and safe it was to integrate a road race.
“We knew we wanted to be in those road races, but we also knew we needed to set something for future generations to be included, not have to do this piece, but do the other pieces that come from creating that piece,” she said.
A 27-year athletic career featuring 12 medals over eight Paralympic Games has put Cable into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame, as she’s undoubtedly a major reason the Paralympic Movement is where it is today.
While she’s elated with the strides she’s seen with the Paralympics, Cable is adamant that right now is as good a time as any to fight for inclusion of marginalized people. With the coronavirus and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement coming to the forefront of America in the past several months, Cable said there's an opportunity to make change.
“We're in this really wonderful dynamic paradigm shift that if we can embrace as athletes, Paralympians and Olympians, with our innate resiliency that we have developed through our sports and then brought forward in our lives,” she said. “We can really change this.”
Cable is a believer that racism and ableism are intertwined, ableism being a result of racism, and that as soon as athletes are aware of their own prejudices, they can be at the forefront of making that change. She stresses the importance of athletes addressing their own ableism, educating themselves on issues that need to be brought forward and, most of all, listening.
“All of the work to bring forward what the inequities are is pretty exhausting for most people. I have to say for myself throughout this, I don't try not to be a downer, but throughout this whole process, it just felt like I'm not being heard. I'm not being listened to and, that little pieces of it get through, but that t there's just so much resistance to change.”
Still, Cable believes that, using the resiliency they find to excel in their sport, athletes have the opportunity to enact change.
“I think that a lot of Paralympians and Olympians in general kind of don't want to deal with it but there's so much that exists that has been traumatizing people for ages that still needs to be acknowledged,” she said.
“I love that sport has been able to be a universal door opener, because it really does open the conversation... That's one of the beautiful dynamic pieces of sport is that everybody can participate.