Thursday, April 26, 2007

"In Maryland , A Fight to the Finish Line" - The story and my commentary on the high school athlete who wants to be included

[visual description: A photo of Tatyana in her everyday wheelchair.}

This news article updates the situation about Tatyana McFadden, a Paralympic high school wheelchair racer who has filed several lawsuits for the right to be included on her high school track team at events and have her results count in the team final.

According to Tatyana, she is now ostracized as she awaits a decision on the second lawsuit. Able bodied athletes have teamed up - against her - to the point where she practices alone, socializes with non-athletes at school and gets support from wheelchair athletes who understand and support her fight to be included. This is ironic since McFadden's desire to be included stemmed from wanting to be a part of a team - and be included as a member.

Able bodied runners - and some coaches - are threatening a boycott if McFadden wins her second lawsuit, claiming they will take runners off the track to leave her to race alone. In my opinion, they have already done that. And maybe the judge hearing this case needs to think ahead and put a sanction in place to disqualify teams who defy his court order, should he decide that McFadden has a right to race with her peers.

We can review the arguments here about what's fair to the sport, whether teams with wheelchair athletes would benefit from this ruling(not so far since judges penalized McFadden for a rule violation based on another runner's statement at the state championship, causing her team to lose first place), whether other athletes may be injured (none ever have with her racing) and on and on. What's interesting is that there is no debate going on here about ways to address these issues to include a wheelchair athlete.

It's part of the process of inclusion - the backlash against change and adhering to the status quo. We need to look at the history of disabled people - and other minorities - in this country to get the full perspective here. We achieve inclusion in different areas as time goes on. Education, employment, transportation , housing - and sports. To some advocates, inclusion in sports is not as important as other areas, but it is part of the overall picture. It has to do with having a society that includes all its members.

Would people be so upset if Tatyana raced and came in last or near the end all of the time? Would that better fit preconceived notions? When they argue that she has an "advantage" due to her wheelchair, do they realize how ridiculous that sounds? She uses a wheelchair all day long - it's not as if she climbs into one just to race! (I find it very interesting in reviewing the articles over the past several years that she is very seldom seen in her everyday wheelchair.) And let's face it - she's a Paralympic athlete. If there was an able bodied runner who had won an Olympic medal , wouldn't they expect her to be a valuable team member? How often do teams have years with good runs because they have talented athletes on the team? Is it somehow wrong if that athlete is in a wheelchair?

Those of us with disabilities who participate in the world know that there are many times when, due to the fact that we do things "differently" because of our disabilities, we are viewed as being inferior. Employers worry whether we can do the job. Landlords worry if we'll be good tenants. The assumption is that we cannot make the grade and meet the standards. Yet when we work hard and succeed our efforts may be discounted as coming from special treatment when in reality we are the ones who have achieved.

Inclusion does not mean that we fit into the world as it is. I am reminded of the words of Fr. Michael Lapsley:

" Don’t include us in your community, but together we must create a community which is for all of us."

How sad it is that a young girl's efforts toward inclusion have resulted instead in ostracism.


goldchair said...

I learned early on that no matter how fast I push my own wheels, there are going to be some obstacles put in my way set by society and others that slow me down that have nothing to do with my abilities and everything to do with how people "feel" about my disability. I'm the type that just works harder so I have a job and a full life but I've worked many times harder than necessary to do it. In my opinion, pwd don't want sympathy or pity but do want the same opportunities as everyone else.

betterolls said...

I've used a wheelchair most of my life. When I was 12 there was a school play. I tried out for a part and got the lead from the teacher doing the play but the principal said I couldn't take the part because I might injure someone else while on the stage. There was no ADA and that was the end of it. The lesson I learned from that was it didn't matter that I got the lead because I was disabled. I could be the best and still someone could just say no. It took me a long time to understand how shortchanging people because of issues like having to accommodate them is morally even if not legally wrong. Thanks for following this case.