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Friday, February 15, 2008

Pistorius Appeals Olympic Ban

Multiple news papers are reporting that Oscar Pistorius has appealed to the Court of Arbitration (CAS) against his ban from running at the Beijing Olympics with two prostheses. As discussed in previous entries, Pistorius was banned the IAAF from competing against non disabled athletes because his prostheses know as Cheetahs gave him an unfair advantage. This ban was based on two days of studies conducted by Peter Bruggeman at the German Sport University.

According to Pistorius, several studies conducted in the United States have contradicted the findings of Professor Bruggeman. The dispute centers around the amount of energy absorbed and returned by Pistorius' below the knee prostheses. This is the mechanical or biological source of disagreement between Pistorius and the IAAF. While I am not qualified to render an opinion on whether Pistorius' prostheses give him a competative advantage, I hardly think a two day study can provide conclusive evidence he should not run. This point has been made by Pistorius' lawyer who stated "The tests that were performed, we believe, were completely flawed and inadequate".

What interests me are the social implications of Pistorius' ban. Why, I wonder, did no one objected to Pistorius presence until he started to post impressive Olympic quality times and beat competators who raced without prostheses? This point has not been missed by Pistorius who in July ran in the 400 meters B race at the Golden Gala in Rome placing second. Pistorius has repeatedly stated that he would have preferred to keep his appeal within the athletic community--he simply wanted to be treated with the same respect as any other world class athlete. Instead, Pistorius has been forced to take his appeal public because he knows it is the only way he will be treated fairly. Pistorius also knows that his appeal has wider significance. He stated that was filing his "appeal not just for myself but for all disabled athletes. We deserve a chance to compete at the highest levels if our bodies permit us to do so".

I doubt Pistorius appeal will result in victory. Sporting events such as the Olympic Games are about much more than sports. They are laden with rampant nationalism and deep symbolic meaning. This leads me to speculate that Pistorius simply does not look like a world class athlete that most people imagine. Runners run with two feet. Winners walk up to and on a raised podium while the national anthem plays. This vision has not changed in more than a century. Thus Pistorius mere presence upsets this tradition and is a social affront to other athletes and viewers of the Olympic Games.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Obama Update

I will not be going to the local Obama event. It is being held at an inaccessible location. How do I know this? I got a reply from the person who organized the event. This is the good news. The bad news is that all such local events are created and run at the grass roots level. Even if a person organizing an event wanted to include information about wheelchair at an upcoming event it is not possible. At the Obama website one goes to "events" and under events there are three subheadings: "Find an event", "Create an event" and "Manage events". Anyone who desires can create an event. Once "Create an event" is clicked the person hosting the event is restricted to posting the time date and location.

Now that I know how the process works I will now try and find someone who oversees the website and strongly suggest access information be included. This is very important to me for practical and larger reasons: First, I would like to be a part of the process and second, I went to the website of every major candidate, Democratic and Republican, and not a single website includes any information about wheelchair access. Unless disabled people are part of the democratic process, and that means a recognized voting block, their existence will not be valued. I will continue to keep you posted on my progress as I am a man with a mission.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Obama and Disability

I am not impressed by any candidate running for president. The Republicans are, well Republicans and will not be getting my vote. As for the Democrats, I dislike Hilary Clinton for a host of reasons. The only candidate that intrigues me is Barack Obama. He is obviously a gifted speaker and writer. As a fellow Columbia graduate, I liked his book and overall am impressed with how well he is able to articulate his views.

This morning I decided I needed to become a bit more educated about Obama and what he stands for. Readers of this blog will not be surprised to read that the first thing I wanted to know more about was his position on disability rights. I went to and came away impressed and annoyed. A well reasoned position paper is available entitled "Barack Obama's Plan to Empower Americans with Disabilities". I liked the title and the four point plan that is both forward looking and reactive. There is also a short personal video statement about disability as well.

Given my positive reaction to Obama's plan to empower disabled Americans, I decided that I should try and see the candidate at an event. I also thought going to an event would be a good experience for my son who in a few years will be old enough to vote and has repeatedly told me not to vote for Hilary Clinton. The Obama website is very professional and easy navigate. I clicked on "Find Events", plugged in my zip code and multiple events popped up in less than a second. I then went to event details and this is where things broke down for me. I went to each and every event listing within 100 miles of my home and not once was any information about wheelchair access included. No information about interpreters for the blind--not a single word about accommodations for any disabled people. Obama and his staff have written a good position paper but missed the point about real inclusion. Sure Obama may support the rights of disabled people but neglecting to include information about access at each and every event is more than just a mistake. It is a slap in the face to every disabled person aware of their civil rights. I am angry and this morning I sent two firm but polite emails to the Obama campaign. My vote will now hinge on the reply I get. Is Obama a poser? Does he really support disabled people, want their vote, and support equal access? If so, someone from the campaign will reply to my email and the gross oversight on the website will be corrected. If Obama is a fake and simply seeking to garner votes via position papers I will get no reply. I will keep you posted. And if you want to be part of this experiment in the democratic process send the Obama campaign an email too. Let's see if he is for real--a man of words and actions.