On May 19, 2008, in my RelationShaping article — Carbon-Fiber Legs Racing for Olympic Gold — I wrote the following celebrating legless Olympic hopeful runner Oscar Pistorius who had been denied his shot at competing against able-bodied runners. He was banned by the International Association of Athletics Federations as having an “unfair advantage” because his false legs were seen as a mechanical edge in a race:
For anyone to claim that a man who runs on false legs is somehow advantaged over those with real legs is not only the height of hilarity, but also the cause of ongoing immoral human corruption.
I am always amazed how many average people are outraged when non-average people are provided “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991.
When Marlee Matlin recently appeared on Dancing with the Stars there were some — including the judges — that felt she deserved no reasonable accommodation in the grading of her dancing because “she has to be treated just like everyone else” even though she is profoundly Deaf since birth and cannot hear music.
Last week, four years later, the fantastic news came down that Pistorius would finally and officially compete in the 2012 London Olympics as part of the team from South Africa:
Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee runner who has forced sports officials and fans to reconsider the distinction between disabled and able-bodied athletes, was named Wednesday to South Africa’s Olympic track team for this summer’s London Games. He will become the first amputee to compete in track at the Olympics and instantly joins athletes like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt as one of the Games’ biggest attractions.
His presence on the most prominent stage in sports will no doubt rekindle an international debate over whether his J-shaped, carbon-fiber prosthetic blades give him an unfair advantage.
What a relief for the goodness of humankind! I have great admiration for South Africa and the London games for allowing Pistorius to compete with other able-legged runners. Equality for disability must begin by looking beyond the accommodation and more deeply into the process of being in competition.
You would not believe the ignorant hate mail I received in 2008 and beyond for my article supporting Pistorius. I was accused of wanting to help a legless man cheat to win a race. I was told that replacement legs made Pistorius superhuman. When I asked for any evidence of those ridiculous claims — I was met with silence.
I’m not sure why people are so quick to condemn the disabled who want to be equally treated by the middling mainstream — do we really think hearing aids give Deaf people “super hearing” or that a white cane gives sight to the blind or that a man can run faster on fake legs? — but the fact remains there are still a lot of misanthropic people out there in the wilds, festering prejudice and tending hatred and growing more condemnation and discrimination just because they are all too willing to believe in science fiction fantasies and not in rooting out the everyday hardship of living a disabled life.