My son Tom and I are new to alpine skiing. After he "retired" from hockey last year we were interested in taking up a new sport--something that was physically taxing, fun, and, from my viewpoint, would take him far away from his Xbox. When my niece, who works as a program co-ordinator for Vermont Adaptive, invited us up last winter we jumped at the chance. It turned out my son was a natural on skis. I was not so gifted and struggled for a variety of reasons foremost among them finding the correct sit ski (for a person with a high level of injury, t-3, the correct gear is very important).
This ski season has gone much better. Using a dual sit ski as opposed to a mono ski that is common I expect (hope) to be independent by the end of the season. I love the freedom and sensation of skiing. Being outside in the cold, the views from the summit, and seeing my son speeding by me are all wonderful. But I wonder what other non-disabled people really think about my efforts. In Vermont I rarely get that "Oh my gosh, you are such an inspiration" comment that I detest. Yet I remain concerned about how I am perceived. Do others understand that I am like any other parent who simply wants to spend time with their kid? This question leads me to wonder about the value of adaptive sports. Here I am not referring to events such as the Para-Olympics where the athletes are young, gifted, and driven. These men and women are professionals and should be perceived as such.
I am your typical weekend warrior--nothing more and nothing less. I am skiing to have fun like the vast majority of people. But I am not like others. I use and wheelchair and sit ski. Do people look beyond my wheelchair and sit ski and see me for who I am? I would like to think so yet I am not sure this is the case. When you add in the high cost of skiing my concerns grow exponentially. What is the point of having adaptive sport programs if 70% of disabled people are unemployed? Do not misconstrue what I am trying to get at: adaptive sport programs are great and have a place in society. It is just that on our drive back home I was pre-occupied with the gross economic and social inequities that disabled people encounter on a daily basis. Social stigma and the lack of economic independence prevent far too many disabled people from leaving their home and, for some, visiting a ski area is a pipe dream. As we approached home I broached this issue with my son who has an innate ability to reduce complex issues to their most common denominator. He remarked that I could not change the world in one weekend and that I should really be thinking about ways to improve my form so that I could keep up with him. He went on to note that what made people think the most in his estimation was little a little sign my niece put on my wheelchair while I was skiing. It stated: "Gone Skiing". He told me that as people trudged by, many stopped, thought a second or two and laughed. This, he thought, was an indication that people questioned their preconceived notions about "dudes that use a wheelchair" and that I should just enjoy myself. I hope my son is correct and will work on not only my form but on advances the rights of disabled people.
Paralyzed since I was 18 years old, I have spent much of the last 30 years thinking about the reasons why the social life of crippled people is so different from those who ambulate on two feet. After reading about the so called Ashley Treatment I decided it was time to write a book about my life as a crippled man. My book, Bad Cripple: A Protest from an Invisible Man, will be published by Counter Punch. I hope my book will completed soon.
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Thursday, January 3, 2008
Adaptive Skiing and Sports
Posted by william Peace at 6:05 AM
PhD 1992 in anthropology Columbia University, I am interested in disability rights and bioethics.
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This is a great post to read. What is your e-mail or further electronic contact. I would love to write to you about your experiences. Thanks.
Erika, I can be reached at email@example.com
Glad you liked the post. Are you a skier?
I think it's fantastically important as wheelchair users for us to be out in public, doing ordinary things that other people do in whatever way it works for us to do it, showing that we are no more one-dimensional ("I am my disability") than anyone else.
It's an idea similar to that expressed by Scott Rains in his recent presentation to the Second International Conference on Inclusive Tourism: "People with Disabilities, when we travel we represent more than ourselves because we are part of a community. As a person with a disability you carry two items of unusual value -- especially in combination. Both tend to surprise those you meet as you travel. The two items are money and pride. By money I mean more than the change in your pocket. By pride I mean that confident self-determination of knowing who you are beyond any economic measures of worth."
(The whole address is at Disaboom: The Second International Conference on Inclusive Tourism.)
I agree leading a routine life, that is appearing to be an ordinary person are important factors in creating a more accepting society for people with disabilities. But this is not enough for me. Prejudice exists and I feel I have the obligation to do something about this via writing and forcefully advocating for equal access. If disabled people want to see real progress made at a practical and social level they must be prepared to fight for their rights as citizens. This is not easy because the vast majority of people in this country do not perceive disability and access from a civil rights perspective.
As for Scott Rains, his views and actions are different in that he writes about travel and works in that industry. While the sentiments expressed by Rains are well put, services provided to disabled travelers is substandard at best. This is not Rains fault but I sure wish he was far more forceful. I have nothing but hard feelings when it comes to travel--especially when it concerns commercial airlines. In fact I am convinced a systemic pattern of prejudice exists in the airline industry that is designed to prevent and discourage disabled people from flying.
wow! Thank you or the inspiration. I am in Vermont at Killington/Pico. I hope to get on a sled (you know the ability (w/o the DIS) tomorrow. I am so excited. I have MS and have ben suffering for 4 years. I am done feeling sorry for myself. I am getting out and getting it done! Brad of Edgemot, NY
nothing like typos. I wanted to add. I trained in martial arts and used to ski. I put it all down when the MS hit. It won't go away. I am looking at beautiful mountains and am with my family. What a great place to be. Brad
Brad, just read your post. Glad to know my post about skiing got you back on the slopes. Donna with VASS at Pico told me about you and how much fun you had. Maybe we will bump into one another before the season ends.
I agree with you. Adaptive Ski is only available to those that have the ability to get there! If it wasn't for the generous donations and beautiful people that volunteer, there would be nothing available. I am going to write about my experience and send to the NMSS requesting it to be published. If it wasn't for darn luck and finding your blog while at Killington. I never would have done what I did. I sat in the hot tub with my family and watched the Moon turn into an amazing sight. Without eyes I would not have been able to see that. I realized then how much I have and looked upon this moment as a strategic inflection point. Since that moment I am constantly working at trying to see what I have, can do, appreciate and take a breath. I look forward to meeting you. We live only 30 minutes from each other. I have been working on a book as well.
No pun intended.
Rather a side note, but something that disturbs me greatly is how many people don't know the difference between Para-lymics and Special Olympics
Ruth, This just highlights the stunning level of ignorance r.e disability.
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