Elite athletes from around the world are heading to Brazil to compete for gold. The Rio Olympics may be over, but the Paralympics are just about to begin. From the triathlon to taekwondo to tennis, the competitions are a test of physical and mental strength, with the added challenge of navigating a disability.

For some Paralympians, getting to Rio has been more challenging than ever. The economic turmoil and chaos that marred Brazil’s Summer Games has put further strain on the Paralympics, depriving it of much-needed funds. The events have been downsized, venues closed, and athletes from several countries deprived of travel grants from Brazil’s Olympic Committee.

Critics say the funding shortfall, lackluster sales and waning sponsorships for the Paralympics sends the message that athletes with disabilities are second-class citizens. That message, they say, is one people living with disabilities face every day, particularly as cash-strapped economies make cuts to public services that provide fundamental aid to people who dream of finding a job or making their own meal, let alone winning a gold medal. 

Supporters of the Paralympics are rallying to #FillTheSeats in Rio. The crowdfunding campaign spurred on by musical band Coldplay is purchasing tickets for Brazilian kids to fill the stands and cheer on the athletes. Advocates say it sends the right message, but getting people, not just athletes, the support they need will take much more education and action to end the stigma, discrimination and prejudice that stands in their way of a healthy future. Join us today, at 19:30 GMT.

On this episode of The Stream, we'll speak to:

The Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson @Tanni_GT
Member of the House of Lords as Independent Crossbench Peer, Welsh

Natalie Du Toit @Natsdutoit
Paralympic swimmer 

Liz Johnson  @lizjohnson_gb
Paralympic swimmer

Aaron Bauer @ABauer_ATR
Rio correspondent for Around the Rings

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