Translator: Silvia RiveraReviewer: Denise RQ Thanks for the opportunityto bring my prospective here.
Today what I wanted to talk about is the interface between disabilities sport and society’s appreciation of disability or perception of disabilityand how each have changed the other.
In order to look forward though, we need to look back, and what I want to start out with is looking at that medicalmodel of disability, which we can say was generatedor started just after World War II.
I was actually born duringthe dependency model.
I got polio, livingin Sierra Leone, West Africa, now the heart of Ebola, I got polio when I was three.
Myself and my father moved to England, and the point of that storyis that I attended the Chailey Heritage Craft Schoolfor Crippled Children, and that story shows how disabilitywas seen at that time.
So it was a craft schoolfor crippled children, so that children therecould be trained to do a craft, shoe making, that kind of thing, in order to get gainful employment.
And early wheelchair technologyis an example that reflected that disability model.
Not very functional, out of the medical environment, and when we lookat early prosthesis as we see here, these are generated for the benefitof the people with disabilities.
I’ll suggest to youthat these are more generated to make able-bodied peoplefeel more comfortable being around people with disabilities.
Fortunately, we movedaround about the mid 1970s to taking a more functionalmodel of disability.
The trouble with that isthat our aspiration was for normalization.
Normalization being the closerto able-body, the better.
An example of normalization, I can kind of stagger upon braces and crutches, but none of my studentswould have every seen me like that, because I can’t do anythingon braces and crutches, but when someone without a disabilitysees me up on braces and crutches, I get a comment something like, “Oh! You’re getting better, ” or “You’re getting more normal, “and there I am with both my arms occupied, not being able to move morethan about 20 meters independently, completed unable to cookanything or make tea, and I’m thinking: yeah! this is better? That’s because being judgedby that normative standard, the closer it looks to beingable-bodied, the better.
Fortunately, with our functional modelof disability, what we started to see was people taking controlof their own functionality.
At the same time, as the furthest distanceto race in a wheelchair in international competitionwas a 100 meters.
Back in 1975, a guy called Bob Hall enteredthe Boston Marathon in a wheelchair – that hopefully you can see up there – that still looks very muchlike a wheelchair, and completed it in four hours; nothing to write home about.
But, as we started seeingfunction taken over, we started seeing the developmentin wheelchair sport, a very specific wheelchairoriented equipment.
This, for example, is a racing wheelchair.
Looks nothing like a regular wheelchair, and in fact, it doesn’t functionlike a regular wheelchair, the only thing this wheelchair can dois go forward very, very quickly.
But designed for that purpose is an incredibly efficientpiece of technology that I’ll come back to in a little bit.
Here you see one of the ultimateof functional definition, and this is a sled hockey sled used toplay ice hockey at paralympic competition.
[Do] you notice one thing strangeabout this wheelchair? It doesn’t have any wheels.
We’ve evolved function to the point wheresometimes wheelchairs don’t have wheels.
Moving over to amputee sport, my first contact was in 1988, when I was at the Seoul Paralympic Games, racing for the USA.
This guy, Dennis Oehler, was racing for the USA, and it was the first time I saw a truly functional itemof prosthetic equipment.
If you can notice his legthere in this image, – his right leg is artificial – and if you can maybeget a look at his foot, his foot is actually planted down.
And when you see him go to the line, he would have to limp to the line, because it was only an efficientprosthetic when he was running.
Because his foot was setin a running position.
But, with that functional prosthetic– Note that it doesn’t look like a leg, it is not designed to look like a leg, it is designed to have someone runningquickly, running fast, very efficiently.
And Oehler did that.
He easily heldthe world record for running for an athlete with an amputation.
But Oehler got out-technologiced by a guy called Tony Volpentest.
And what’s cool about Tony Volpentest was that he was a double legbelow knee amputee sprinter.
Traditionally, the conception is loosing both legs is a greater disabilitythan only loosing one leg – we have classification systemsthat cover that – but for Volpentest thoughtwas, “OK, if I don’t have either leg, I can make my legs as long as I want, ” consequently increasing his stride length.
And here you see Volpentestbeating Oehler in a race Oehler called foul.
So now we have someone who ismore disabled than his competitor gaining an advantage from his disability.
Ultimately, we put in regulationswith regard to that.
I mentioned normalization.
You also have the tyrannyof normative thought.
Normative thought is that we, people with disabilities, poor us, we are always at a disadvantage.
I’ll give you an illustration of that.
If I told you that I was going to give youa million dollars tomorrow, if you got this question right, or I’d shoot you if you gotthis question wrong, so don’t pretend, would you selectmy left-hand or my right-hand as representing a personwith a disability? I think you all pickedthe right hand, correct? Tell me I’m wrong.
I’m right, alright.
That’s the social constructionof disability.
We are less than when comparedto a normative standard, and that’s what gets brought in regularly.
And so we seeathletes like Jim Abbott here, who pitched for ten yearsin the major leagues, and he only had one hand.
So what did they do as soon as they sawJim Abbott, the pitcher, coming out to pitch? Let’s bunt, he has only got one hand.
Who in this world do you thinkhas had more experiences fielding bunts than somebody whohas only grown up with one hand and he is now pitchingin the major leagues? If they switch their heads on, they must have understood, he had to be expert at fielding bunts, or he wouldn’t have pitchedin the major leagues.
They were still bunting on himin his tenth year in the major leagues.
And here is an image of him, after pitching a no hitter for the New York Yankees.
But you can see how normativethinking advantaged him.
We have here an athletecalled Tony Robles who won a collegiatewrestling championship a few years ago, and this image shows him with everyone standing upand applauding his victory, because “My goodness gracious me!How brave is this individual.
” “Only has one leg and here he is winninga national wrestling championship.
” Well, I’m sorry Tony, but you werea benefactor of normative thinking.
Think about this.
He has so many advantages, relative to the peoplehe was setting up to wrestle against.
He has only three limbs.
How many times werehis opponents wrestling against somebody with only three limbs? Plus, he only had one leg! that meant that he didn’t havethe weight of his second leg.
Consequently, his official weightwas 125 pounds and he should’ve been wrestlingat a weight division of 157 pounds.
So consequently, the peoplewho were facing him were smaller than him and had no experience wrestlingthis larger person with only one leg.
Normative thinking stopped them saying: “Hang on! Does this guyhave an advantage?” There are few people who have thrown awaythat normative thinking.
The InternationalPower Lifting Federation, for example, now makes adjustmentfor lower body weight.
I want to get on to my central thesisand the idea is valorization.
Valorization goes past normalization and says we should be lookingat whatever it is not as how that action compares toa normative standard or majority standard, but how it compareson how it’s of worth in and of itself.
Oscar Pistorius isa perfect example of that.
When Oscar Pistorius came to be– wanted to race at the Olympics in 2012, of the many legal challenges, normative thinking led themto evaluate the blade runner with regard to does he havean advantage or a disadvantage relative to able-bodied runners? And he was able to make his case there.
For me, valorized thinking would beeasy doing the same math.
And when you look at it biomechanically, when you look at it physiologically, when you look at the split times, there is no doubt that one thingwe can say about Oscar Pistorious is he wasn’t performing the same act.
Consequently, surprisingly enough, I don’t think Oscar Pistoriusshould’ve raced in the Olympics, because he wasn’t doing the same thing.
He may have visually looked similaralthough he did look different, but he just wasn’t performingthe same action.
So, the corollary to the blade runner is that at the paralympic gamestwo weeks later, he was beatenby another double amputee runner because that double amputee runnerhad not reduced his technology in order to be able to competein the Olympics.
So Oscar Pistorius did not maximizethe technological abilities and the rules that allowed himto race in the paralympics.
He dumbed then down so he could beclose enough to able-bodied to be able to race in the Olympics.
Consequently, he lost a racein the paralympics to another runner, Alan Oliveira you can see here, who had maximized the rulesand had longer limbs there.
Question: is that technological doping? Valorization meanslook at an action in and of itself.
There is no doubt we wouldn’t say the racing wheelchairs, someone who is racing in a wheelchair, is performing the same actthan someone running.
And they are not, because now the fastest timethat a marathon we can run is about two hours and five minutes.
The fastest wheelchair racer nowdoes it in an hour and 22 minutes.
No power, no gearing, 40 or 50 minutesfaster than the fastest runner.
When you think about that, for those of us old enough to recognize it that’s some four minute milesfor all 26 miles.
We should value thatas an athletic activity in and of itself and nothing to how it comparesto people without disabilities.
I’m excited about the new wheelchairsthat are showing up.
And when you look atprosthetics advancements think about the picturewith the artificial arm whose wrist is not restrictedby human anatomy.
What happens when that wristcan turn around 360° degrees? We need something new.
What we’re seeing now isthe development of new technologies.
As soon as we have a new technology, we have a new sport.
And with the combinationof virtual imagery, prosthetics, we will be seeing very different sportsin the future and I would suggest to you that technologically, we’re going to seethe most extreme and best sporting events coming out of the disabledand paralympic sporting world.
Last reflection for you: Roosevelt had to hide that he had polio; did he not? and they went throughmany extremes to hide his disability.
We just elected a governorof the State of Texas, who, in his advertising campaigns, made it very, very clearthat he was a wheelchair user.
He used his wheelchairas an advantage, that is our evolution.
I think that if we adopt valorization, we start looking at thingsfor the worth they are.
The sky is the limit.
Thank you for your time today, sorry for going a little over.