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March 11, 2008

Dis Abled or Un Abled

You've probably seen the South African Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who has those wonderful carbon fiber prostheses from Iceland. If you haven't, check him out on YouTube.

Better minds than mine have wrestled with the question of whether he should be allowed in the regular Olympics. At first he was not allowed (by the IAAF), then that decision was reversed (by the Court of Arbitration for Sport). He has until July 16th to qualify for the South African relay team. He's only been running for four years and he's close to the required time.

Meanwhile, Olympic swimmers have been clamoring to wear the new Speedo LZR swimsuit, which is slightly buoyant and is seamless. World records have been falling like dominoes.

To me, this is proof of how far athletes will go to win. Is Pistorius disabled, or has he just got better sneakers?

This is a tough question, and goes to the heart of the situation of literally millions of disabled Canadians. Are they disabled, or just kept from doing things? Here are two slides to think about:

Click MENU above for a larger version.

I use a wheelchair, and when I go to the new Best Buy, I'm not disabled. If I go to the Metro Center, I'm inconvenienced; if I go to the Mahone Bay Trading Company at Historic Properties, I'm disabled, and if I go to Park Lane Mall I'm inconvenienced, disabled and endangered. So depending on whether some one has taken the trouble to make things accessible, I'm either as able as anyone or completely UNable.

The second slide above shows the classification of disabilities in Canada. Very nearly 75% are the kinds of disabilities that can be fixed by changing the environment. Why would the government hesitate to improve the lives of 4,235,580 of its citizens?

Granted that some of these people are severely challenged, and low floor buses won't make a difference. But the needs of most can be met with ramps, power doors, closed captioning, podcasts, grab bars and curb cuts. Suppose it's only half - that's still 2 million+!

Most of the problem is probably just inertia. No party has a decent platform on disability, and no party has bothered to look at the numbers and cost. They are so focused on reducing wait times for hip replacements that they never think about prevention or better facilities.

Just by changing some building codes and paying attention to Charter rights, the lives of so many would be bettered.

I hope Pistorius cleans some Olympic clocks. That will confound the gym teacher!

Gus Reed

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