Friday, February 02, 2007

The limit isn't in the disability

I think there is a general awareness that individuals with physical disabilities play sports. The Paralympics happen in the same venues as the Olympics every four years directly following the Games. A few years ago Murderball about wheelchair rugby was a popular documentary. Though, admittedly, most of us who are able-bodied think very rarely about sport and disability. And because we see it so rarely it seems like an anomaly. And it is not a far stretch to think about access to sport, if one is differently abled, as a privilege, rather than a right.
A story such as this one about the availability of varsity sports at the collegiate level for student-athletes with physical disabilities highlights the Othering of disability and sport.
Only 11 universities offer varsity sports for disabled athletes. And most of those have to raise money to keep their programs going.
Can you imagine the increase in access to sport if persons with disabilities had something similar to Title IX? The legal battles that have been fought already over access to sport for the differently-abled are immense. (The Paralympics has had many legal encounters with the International Olympic Committee over copyright and access and made only minimal advances with the help of legislation.)
But because oftentimes disabled sports are seen as solely meant to "lift the spirits" of the disabled, or as occasional events, the possibility that some disabled athletes want to participate in sport at a high level of competition is frequently overlooked (or ignored). The idea that the able-bodied might want to seriously compete in their chosen sport is rarely questioned today.
More competitive opportunities, and more opportunities generally, for disabled athletes are needed. Not because the able-bodied (who are largely in control of sport) should be more magnanimous but because access to sport should not be a privilege of ability.

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