Saturday, May 19, 2007

An Unfair Advantage

On the front page of the early edition of Sunday’s Sports section in the Oregonian is an inflammatory article that speaks volumes of the mindset in America regarding people with disabilities. It’s about a sprinter named Oscar Pistorius who had both of his legs amputated at 11 months old. The concern is that his prosthetic legs may give him an unfair advantage if he is allowed to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Bejjing.
Although the positions taken by those who oppose his participation seem unreasonable and discriminatory, it opens doors on several levels that bear discussion.

Let’s first explore the idea whether an unfair advantage even exists in this situation. Oscar runs “on a pair of j-shaped blades made of carbon fiber and known as cheetahs” according to the article. He was born without fibulas in his legs and defective feet.

Learning how to walk as a child must have been extremely difficult, but he did it. His non-disabled peers learned to walk on their own 2 legs and feet. As a father who watched his own child learn to walk, I can say that my daughter didn’t struggle much to gain this skill. Advantage... non-disabled kids.

As a child he must have been acutely aware of his differences from his peers. I’ve spoken to many people having life long disabilities who have described such awareness as painful and difficult to deal with. He got through it. Advantage...non-disabled kids.

In high school he likely wanted to attend dances with his peer group, and felt those adolescent male hormones raging through his body. Of course he would want to learn to dance in order to participate. That must have been a challenging task to say the least. Being interested in running, if he was allowed to be on the track team, perseverance and determination would surely have driven him. The other students on the team would have practiced hard, but I can’t imagine they practiced “as” hard.

Oscar is 20 now. He’s already proven himself to be significantly faster than the athletes he’s competed against in Paralympic competition. In fact, he recently came in second place against non-disabled runners in a race at the South African national championships. He admits it’s hard coming off the block at the start of races, and doesn’t get into his running rhythm until 30 meters. Rain and wind are also very challenging; much more so for him than the competition. Sound like an unfair advantage to you?

This isn’t only about Oscar. For far too long people with disabilities have been put in labeled boxes, having to “prove” they have a right to be fully included in our society. They are called names like “special” by the condescending masses who keep alive the notion of “them” and “us”. It’s a civil rights issue!

Students with physical and developmental disabilities are often kept in segregated classrooms throughout this country. Many of them only see their non-disabled peers at lunch and assemblies. If that’s not a set up for low self esteem, I don’t know what is. Does that seem fair?

People with disabilities STILL have to justify their need for support in order to live well in their community. If they somehow manage to outgrow a need, they risk losing other needed supports because they are too independent. It’s a balancing act that no one should have to deal with. Is that fair?

People with disabilities receiving Medicaid funds are limited to $2000 in resources. Once they cross that threshold they can lose their health insurance due to Medicaid rules. They often live in governmentally imposed poverty so they won’t have to give up that one critical support. Is that fair?

The numbers of people with disabilities who are unemployed, under employed, homeless, hungry, or incarcerated are ridiculously higher percentage-wise than their non-disabled counterparts. In fact, they face more blatant discrimination than any group of people in America today. Aint nothin’ fair about it!

There is certainly a lot more to be said about “unfair advantages” in regard to the struggles people with disabilities face in this country on a daily basis. I could go on ad infinitum about it. Instead I’ll leave it here for now, hoping that Oscar gets to kick some ass in 2008.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So what happens next? Oscar is not going to kick any ass if he's not running. There will be no "triumph of the human spirit" without some human spirit being applied politically to this situation. What happens next?