I suspect that the vast majority of us pay scant attention to physically challenged athletes when we’re racing. Except, of course, for when we’re getting passed by someone on a hand-cycle or in a wheelchair. Or when a visually impaired athlete and their guide pass us.
There’s no denying that folks with physical disabilities can be tremendous athletes. In fact, I’d argue that in some cases these athletes are better and stronger competitors than their non-disabled peers because of their challenges.
The fact of the matter, though, is that I have never paid attention to the rules that are applied to these athletes. Take, for example, the rule that a person with limited sight abilities and who is legally blind is required to wear “black out glasses” during the run phase of a triathlon. Seriously. It’s part of the rules for both USAT and ITU.
So…an athlete with 20% of their vision is required to become totally sightless via black out glasses in order to compete in a triathlon. That doesn’t seem right. In fact, isn’t depriving someone of what little sight they have actually dangerous? For example, a person with limited sight often has the capability to use peripheral vision. That peripheral vision could help that athlete avoid obstructions, other people, and stay on course in general.
I read an article on CNN today about Aaron Scheidies, a 30-year old legally blind triathlete from Detroit, who has filed a Federal lawsuit against USAT, ITU and a race promoter alleging that those entities have discriminated against him and others like him. He claims that the rule requiring partially blind athletes to wear black out glasses runs counter to the Americans With Disabilites Act.
After reading both the article as well as the actual complaint, I really hope that Aaron wins his case. I’ll go out on a limb and suppose that USAT and ITU weren’t purposefully being discriminatory – they claim that the rule requiring partially blind athletes to wear black out glasses “levels the playing field”, but I totally disagree with their stance and the rule.
Oh….and for the record…Aaron is one HELL of a good athlete. He’s run a 2:55 at Boston, has completed an Ironman, is a world champion and a national champion.