Disability, Sport, and Ableism Conference

For anyone interested, there will be a series of talks on the topic of disability and sport in various locations on the University of Alberta campus on Tuesday (February 14) and Wednesday (February 15) as part of the Disability, Sport, and Ableism Conference.  Here is a quick run-down of talk titles, locations, and times:

1. From Pistorius to Para-Olympism: Contentious Paralympic Issues

(Panelists listed below)

Feb 14, 12:30 to 2 pm, PE E-120

 

2. What Can One Do With Ableism?

Lecture: Dr. Gregor Wolbring

Feb 15, 3 to 4:30 pm, ETLC ELO18 Followed by social at Leva Cafe

 

3. Albeism, Obsolescence & Body Technology

Seminar with Dr. Gregor Wolbring

Feb 15, 11am, Tory 14-28 (rsvp peers@ualberta.ca)

 

Featured Panelists & Speakers:

David Greig MHK, ChPC is a National Talent Development Coach for Para-Athletics, Athletics Canada.

Dr. P. David Howe is a former Paralympian, a coach, a journalist and a sport anthropologist who studies social theories of embodiment.

Jean Laroche, ChPC is the Lead Coach for Para- Athletics at the Sherbrooke (QC) High Performance Centre.

Danielle Peers, M.A. (U of A) is a former Paralympian, a coach, a Ph.D student and a Trudeau Scholar who studies disability, sport & human rights.

Dr. Gregor Wolbring (U of C) is an Assistant Professor in Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies, who studies ethics and governance of science and technology with a focus on issues faced by disabled people.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t fix It, But What if It’s Enhanced?

Gary Karp, who sustained a spinal injury in 1973, which prevents him from using his legs states that although his spine is technically broken, he is not.  Although he confesses that he would want to walk again, he clarifies that he would not want to do so at any cost.  He writes (click here for the entire blog post):

Well, it’s not about whether I want to walk. Of course I want to walk. That is, if I could walk the way I did before my injury. Easily, without fatigue, secure in my balance, painlessly. That’s a pretty tall order (especially given that I’m six foot two!).

The problem with paralysis, Gary argues, is that it is viewed as a thing to be fixed and thus people with injuries like Gary’s are viewed as damaged or broken.  He writes:

If the prevailing view of paralysis—or having a disability of any kind—is that the most important thing is to try and fix people (because, of course, what else could broken people want?), then how will I be viewed as the whole person I am—in the context of my paralysis? If I’m damaged goods, then I’m a person whose life can only be improved—much less be a meaningful and satisfying life—if someone repairs my brokenness.

His view on technological advancements like the exoskeleton is this:

What, then, of the exoskeleton? I don’t see it as something that will fix me, that will fill in something horribly missing in my life. After 38 years I’m so thoroughly adapted that not being able to walk is normal. For me.

The exoskeleton, however, is just a hint of what is possible.  What lies beyond is far from mere fixing; the possibilities point to enhancement.  If Gary and others like him decided to “upgrade” their legs with some future technology inspired by the exoskeleton, would those with “regular” legs be in need of fixing?  In a world of enhanced humans, would all people be born damaged or broken?

Oscar Pistorius is a contemporary example of what may one day be possible.  Oscar is a double amputee and a world class sprinter.  His legs, which were made by the same company the CEO of Ekso Bionics worked for at the time, have been the cause of the IAAF’s ruling making him ineligible for competitions conducted under its guidelines.  This decision was eventually reversed, but the reasons for reversal were not that the use of artificial legs is not an issue, but rather that they do not give him any advantage over other competitors.

Of course, there must be some restrictions set on competitions.  For instance, using a bicycle or a motorized vehicle to win the 100m dash certainly does not seem to be in the spirit of that particular sporting event and so the use of mechanized legs can surely lead to questions.  However, the issue of advantage in sport due to technological advancements does not begin with Oscar Pistorius.  Shouldn’t better running shoes fall into this same category?  What about better diets and certain dietary supplements?  What about the advancement in training efficiency?  Are these not technological improvements?  I doubt that Coroebus of Elis, who won the stadion race in 776 B.C.E., would be a match for Usain Bolt, who won several races at the 2008 Olympic Games.  Does fairness dictate that athletes should have equal access to advantage conferring technologies?  So, in the case of the IAAF’s objections to Pistorius,  was the underlying issue of fairness related to the fact that his legs were not equally accessible to other athletes?  What about Usain Bolt’s physiology?  Is it on par with mine?  If I trained as he does, ate as he does, slept the same amount of time he does, etc., would I also be able to run 100m in 9.72 seconds?  I doubt it!  Does Bolt have an unfair advantage over me?  Insofar as he is better predisposed than I for such great sprinting performance, I guess he does have an unfair advantage.  Do I need fixing?  Am I broken?  Well, no.  I’m not a sprinter, so I don’t need fixing, right??  What about Coroebus of Elis?  Was he broken?  Well, no.  He won the first ever recorded Olympic race!

I am certainly not making claims about the IAAF’s decision, nor about the reversal of the IAAF’s decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.  I also am not questioning the logic behind the rules and boundaries in sporting events.  What I question, however, is whether any competitors can truly be said to be advantage-less?  And I think the answer is no!  If that is the case, however, then it would seem that the point of contention about Pistorius’ alleged “edge” over his co-competitors might actually stem from a deeper apprehension about what our society considers to be abnormal.  Could it be that both Gary (who cannot walk) and Oscar (who can outrun much of his “normal” competition) are somehow viewed in terms of being in need of “fixing” because they are abnormal?  If this is the case, then it’s not merely an ableist fear because Oscar Pistorius, to my mind, is more than able to win races against “normal” sprinters.  Perhaps people are suspicious of difference?  I just hope they never figure out that taller people take bigger steps when they sprint.

Is Mount Everest the Proper Political Podium for Individuals with Disabilities?

Sudarshan Gautam, a 25-year old Nepalese man living in Calgary, lost his arms in an accident 15 years ago.  The experience of being both pitied and laughed at by his family and school friends, as well as the general negative attitude of others toward his disability prompted him to prove that losing his arms did not make him disabled.  To this end, he learned to drive a non-modified motorbike and a car with manual transmission.  He also declared that he would summit Mount Everest in 2012.

Mount Everest, being the highest point on earth, gets its share of “firsts.”  Following the famous first successful ascent by Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay, there had been a constant number of both legitimate and eyebrow raising “firsts.”  On the one end of the spectrum, there was the first ascent without oxygen (1978) by Reinhold Messner as well as the first winter ascent by Leszek Cichy and Krzysztof Wielicki in 1980.  On the other end of the spectrum, there was a dangerous helicopter landing in 2005, an insane ski descent, a sleep-over on the summit, etc.  Although the mountain has been commercialised for many years now (with “tourist” climbing companies charging as much as $70,000 per person to lead clients to the roof of the world), the mountain continues to be both a dangerous place and a place of infinite “firsts” with individuals always willing to risk their lives (and the lives of other people on the mountain since rescue efforts at such extreme altitudes are very dangerous endeavours) to be the youngest, the oldest, the fastest, etc. to reach the summit.

Climbing Everest is definitely a personal accomplishment and it has certainly been quite a political endeavour ever since people had set their minds on climbing it.  I am not surprised that Sudarshan Gautam is hoping to promote his noble cause (of advertising abilities of individuals with disabilities) by attempting to climb the highest mountain in the world.  There have been other individuals with disabilities who have successfully navigated the treacherous ridges of Everest.  Erik Weihenmayer was the first blind person to summit Everest and Mark Inglis was the first to do so without legs.

The questions, however, that seem to bother me are Continue reading

Limelight Film Festival: Edmonton

The Limelight Film Showcase, Day 2, is TOMORROW, i.e., Tuesday 18th October, 2011, at the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton.  All events are in Myer Horowitz Theatre in the SUB Building, and the festival runs from noon until around 10pm and includes not only short and feature films, but also live dance and movement performances.  Check out the schedule via the festival page here.  All events are free and open to the public.

FIXED: a Kickstarter plea

Aimee Mullins' Legs

Some of Aimee Mullins' legs

Oakland-based filmmaker Regan Brashear is launching her film FIXED: The Science / Fiction of Human Enhancement and is running a Kickstarter campaign to help with funding for the film’s clean-up.  You can start with donations of $1 and up–details about the campaign and film here.  The campaign runs until 9.03am EDT, August 31, so donate NOW.  A brief excerpt from the site:

What’s the film about?  What does “disabled” mean when a man with no legs can run faster than many Olympic sprinters? With prenatal screening able to predict hundreds of probable conditions, who should determine what kind of people get to be born? If you could augment your body’s abilities in any way imaginable, what would you do and why? From pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to neural implants and bionic limbs, researchers around the world are hard at work developing a myriad of technologies to fix or enhance the human body, but what does it mean to design “better humans” and do we want to? FIXED follows three remarkable people: Continue reading

Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games podcast

The Talks
As Canada prepares to host the world’s best, Vancouver 2010, The Globe and Mail, and the University of British Columbia in collaboration with universities across Canada, are partnering on a unique project inviting the public to flex their intellect via podcasts by some of the country’s best minds on topics related to the 2010 Winter Games.

My podcast is live

Gregor Wolbring

Who will be the future Olympic and Paralympic athlete? The impact of advances in science and technology and bodily assistive devices on Sport.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/intellectual-muscle/the-talks/article1312702/

The transcript of the podcast is situated here

http://www.bioethicsanddisability.org/vancouverpodcast.html

Aimee Mullins on Gizmodo on Racing on Carbon Fibre Legs

Aimee Mullins Beach Shot

Aimee Mullins running on a beach

American athlete Aimee Mullins has been a guest editor over at Gizmodo recently, and her “Racing on Carbon Fibre Legs” is worth a read on Cheetah legs, Pistorius, an ableism. Amongst the things of interest are:

As of yet, the best prosthetic available is not as efficient and not as capable as what Mother Nature gives us — or, what she was supposed to give me and South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius. The revolutionary design of the woven carbon-fibre Cheetah Leg, nicknamed for its design inspiration, has been in existence for nearly 15 years — and after my initial triumphs with them in the mid 1990s, it has been the leg of choice for nearly all elite amputee sprinters. But in one instant, after Pistorius entered a summer 2007 track meet in Rome and placed second in a field of runners possessing flesh and bone legs, he and I were deemed too abled.

And then, in conclusion: Continue reading

The Pistorius Story

There is now a nice pair of videos, running for just under 12 minutes, on Oscar Pistorius, made shortly before the Beijing Olympics, up on Youtube. They take the story up to the point where the Court for Arbitration in Sport overruled the initial IAFF decision banning him from competing with non-disabled athletes. For that decision, see Gregor Wolbring’s thoughts and related discussion in earlier posts here and here.

Dr. Norman Fost’s latest comments on surrogacy

Dr. Norman Fost, who wrote two papers on the Ashley case and growth attenuation with Dr. Diekema this year, says on surrogacy in an article below, “It’s paternalistic to tell a competent woman how she can use her body, whether it’s to work in a coal mine or as a surrogate mother. “ He also says, “It’s not clear why that (commodification) would even be of any great consequences to the child if he or she is raised in a loving home.”

http://www.thedailypage.com/isthmus/article.php?article=27617

His comments on other issues such as savior sibling, steroid in sport are listed here. Continue reading

Training Elite Athletes

image002 The University of Alberta, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine , as part of their Distinguished Speaker Series is sponsoring a talk

Applied Research to support the paralympic wheelchair athlete for Beijing

By Dr. Vicky Tolfrey, Loughborigh University, United Kingdom

Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 5 PM

2- 39 Corbett Hall

Refreshments to Follow

Continue reading

Speedo Para-Swimming Championships

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The 2009 Speedo CAN-AM Para Swimming Championships are being held July 30-31, Aug 1 at the Kinsmen Sports Centre, Edmonton, AB.  Heats: 9:30 am – 12 pm; Finals: 4:30 pm – 8:30 pm.  Swimmers with a broad range of disabilities (functional, visual, and intellectual) will be attending from Canada, the United States, Australia, and Nigeria.  For more information on the competition check here.

Oscar Pistorius on his recent injuries

h/t to Media dis&dat

OUKSP-UK-OSSURRecent story in the Daily Mirror that starts:

Oscar Pistorius has told how a boating accident shattered his face and threatened his life – but will not stop him competing at next month’s BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester

“Bladerunner” is back in training after the freak crash near Johannesburg in February which smashed an eye socket, his jaw, nose and two ribs.

Typical of a man who sprinted into the record books despite having both legs amputated below the knee before his first birthday, he views it as just another hurdle to overcome.

NY Times article: This Journey Began Before Starting Line

Photo of Nadine McNeil embracing her 18-year-old son, Tyler.  Nadine McNeil will compete in her fourth marathon, but it will be the first for Tyler.  Photo by Rob Bennett for the New York Times

By CHARLES WILSON

Published: October 31, 2008

Nadine McNeil will reach the crest of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on her handcycle soon after 7:30 Sunday morning. Moments later, she will roll swiftly past her 18-year-old son, Tyler, who is autistic. This will be her fourth marathon, and Tyler’s first. She has grown uneasy this week thinking of the moment when she will leave him behind.  “I can’t look back,” she said. “For 18 years, I’ve always known every moment where Tyler is. On Sunday, I won’t.”

Though joint parent-child appearances in the New York City Marathon are not uncommon — Rod Dixon, the race’s 1983 champion, is returning this year to run the race with his daughter — the path that brought Nadine, 42, and Tyler to the marathon is an unlikely one. Nadine had a stroke when she was 8 and lost the use of her right arm and her right leg. Tyler, her only child, is severely speech-delayed. Even now at 6 feet 4 inches, he communicates verbally by using one or two words at a time.

Nadine has poured her life into her son. Tyler, in turn, is what she calls “my right arm.” He compensates for her disabilities by tying her shoes. He does her buttons and zippers. If she tries to put on her coat, he will immediately rush to her side and gently lift her right arm into the sleeve.  Neither would have ever made it to this year’s starting line without the other.  Read the entire article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/01/sports/othersports/01marathon.html?th&emc=th

“Disability doesn’t mean Inability”

* For those in the NYC-area, this looks like a fabulous event

“Disability doesn’t mean Inability”
By: Emmanuel Yeboah, Athlete and Activist
 
 When:  Monday, October 27, 2008
 Where: NYU Pless Hall, First Floor Lounge
 82 Washington Square East
 New York, NY 10003
 Time:    6:00-8:30PM
 
 
Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born in Ghana, with a deformed right leg and 
meager expectations. He was able to become self-sufficient in a 
society where the disabled (almost 10 percent of the population) are 
abandoned, shunned and hopeless.  To show his countrymen that 
disability doesn’t mean inability, he pedaled a bike donated by 
Challenged Athletes Foundation 610 km (379 miles) around Ghana using 
only his left leg. He continues to work vigorously to ensure that 
opportunities are available to all physically challenged Ghanaians.
 
Panel Discussion, Q & A, Wine & Cheese to follow
 
 
For questions please contact us at africa.house@nyu.edu

Olympics/Paralympics, Beijing, and a wheelchair-accessible subway system

(This news story originally appeared on the Wired blog, with credit to be given to BA Haller over at the Media and Disability blog.)

 Snapshot of Beijing subway station with a train in the station.  In the foreground, the viewer sees a wheelchair symbol on the platform indicating an accessible entrance and exit. ST

In what may be the most significant improvement in human rights brought about by the 2008 Olympics and Paralympics, Beijing has become less of a Forbidden City for the disabled. Even though more than one million disabled people live within its city limits, Beijing’s crowded subway was practically inaccessible to anyone not able to rush to the front of the platform on their own two feet. Now, according to the official Chinese government information site china.org.cn, the improvements made in preparation for the Games will become permanent, allowing disabled riders to travel without barriers.

 “I can’t believe this is true. Three hours ago I was at home, and now I’m here with all these others watching Paralympic Games competitions,” randomly-selected wheelchair-bound Beijing citizen Wang Shufen said. “The volunteers and subway and bus workers were really helpful. Without them, I would never have made it.” Of course, China.org.cn made sure to note that the 70-year-old Wang was smiling all through her interview, and never mentioned whether she lived ten feet or ten miles from the stadium. Still, for a city that banned the country’s few guide dogs and disqualified the disabled from entrance to many schools, any effort to open the city’s transit infrastructure to the disabled is a welcome change.

Read the full story here: http://blog.wired.com/cars/2008/09/barrier-free-be.html

Canadian swimmer breaks own record in Grand style

Image

With both hands raised and signalling “V” for victory, Canada’s Valerie Grand’Maison celebrates her win in the women’s 100-metre freestyle at the Beijing Paralympics on Wednesday Sept 10, 2008. It was her third gold medal of the Games.

The Star.com/Toronto Star

September 11, 2008

BEIJING–Swimmer Valerie Grand’Maison picked up her third gold medal of the Paralympic Games yesterday by breaking her world record in the women’s 100-metre freestyle for the visually impaired.

Lauren Barwick added gold in equestrian and wheelchair athletes Chantal Petitclerc and Dean Bergeron raced to victories on the track as Canada picked up four gold medals on the day.

Grand’Maison finished first in 58.87 seconds, taking more than a half-second off her previous mark of 59.57 set at the 2006 world championship. The 19-year-old from Montreal, who won gold earlier in the 400 freestyle and 100 butterfly, said her preparation has been the key to her success.  “I’m eating and resting properly and I’m not letting myself be bothered by any distractions,” Grand’Maison said.   “I’ve been pretty nervous for the races but the crowd has been absolutely great.”

Continue reading

`Blade Runner’ Pistorius Wins 100 Meters at Paralympic Games

By Wing-Gar Cheng

Sept. 9 (Bloomberg) — Double-amputee Oscar Pistorius won today’s 100 meters at the Paralympic Games in Beijing, though he missed his objective of beating his own world record time. South Africa’s Pistorius, nicknamed “Blade Runner” because of his carbon-fiber prosthetic legs, finished in 11.17 seconds at the Bird’s Nest stadium, about a quarter of a second slower than his world mark of 10.91 set last year. Continue reading

Canadians sweep podium in Paralympic pool

TheStar.com/Toronto Star

September 7, 2008

THE CANADIAN PRESS

BEIJING – Valerie Grand’Maison got Canada off to a flying start at the Paralympics, leading a podium sweep in the 100-metre butterfly for the visually impaired on the opening day of competition.

Cyclist Jean Quevillon captured Canada’s first medal of the Games earlier in the day, a bronze in the men’s individual pursuit for cerebral palsy athletes.

Grand’Maison, from Longueuil, Que., Kirby Cote of Winnipeg and Chelsea Gotell of Antigonish, N.S., finished 1-2-3 in the butterfly. The 19-year-old Grand’Maison clocked a Canadian record one minute 6.49 seconds in her Games debut, less than a second off the 12-year-old world record.

“I’m so happy, I’m speechless right now,” said Grand’Maison, who won five gold medals at the 2006 world championships. “It’s a dream come true. Every single morning I have thought about winning Paralympic gold and it has now finally happened.   “And it was extra special to share the podium with my teammates. It’s a proud moment for us.”

Continue reading

NY Times article: Day 1: Olympic Swimmer Du Toit Wins Paralympic Gold

AP Photo/Greg Baker
Natalie Du Toit at the WaterCube in Beijing on Sunday. (AP/Greg Baker)
Natalie Du Toit, the South African who won five gold medals at the 2004 Paralympics and who finished 16th in the 20-kilometer open-water swim three weeks ago at the Beijing Olympics, added another Paralympic gold to her collection on Sunday when she won the 100-meter butterfly in her disability class.

NY TIMES article: Amputee Seeks Medal and to Master a Rival

Feeling good never felt more infuriating. Marlon Shirley, the world’s premier amputee sprinter, woke up July 3 with no pain in his knee — not from the half-dozen recent operations, not from the staph infections, not from other problems still lurking in there — for the first time in months. Yet all he could think of was: It’s too late now. I can’t be ready in time.

Marlon Shirley, above in the Netherlands in 2006, has two Paralympic golds in the 100 meters.
photo by Fred Ernst/Associated Press

Ready or not, Monday morning at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, Shirley will blast from the blocks and run what he calls the race of his life — the 100-meter sprint in the Paralympics, the Olympics for disabled athletes, which opened Saturday. It might become the last race of his life, because for all he knows, his knee will explode somewhere around the 70-meter mark. But two months after assuming he would never race in Beijing, at least he would fail trying.

Read the full story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/sports/othersports/07sprinter.html

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