Blackout: Triathlon Groups Sued Over Alleged Discrimination of the Blind

By Jennifer LeeVan

A legally blind athlete is suing several triathlon groups for requiring the use of “blackout glasses,” turning one of his favorite activities into a dangerous one.

Aaron Scheidies, a world-class athlete, filed the complaint on Wednesday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The International Triathlon Participant Union, USA Triathlon, and 3-D Racing, have been charged due to their recent requirement that makes Scheidies (and other visually impaired runners) wear “blackout glasses, with hope to standardize the vision of the participating visually impaired individuals.” Both Schieidies and his lawyer, Richard Bernstein, believe the requirement of blackout glasses directly infringes on the rights of the visually impaired included in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

“The Defendants have enforced rules which require blind or visually impaired athletes competing in sanctioned triathlon events to wear “black out glasses” which eliminate any residual vision and result in a legally blind athlete, such as the Plaintiff, losing what vision he has left,” says the complaint.

Despite past verbal protest on the black out glasses policy, the Defense has still not revoked the procedure. “The rule exists to create a fairer competition for all athletes because partially blind athletes and completely blind athletes compete in the same category and partially blind athletes have an advantage over those who are completely blind.  This rule is in place only on the run portion, not in the swim and not in the bike portions,” argues the Defense.

In response, Bernstein (also blind) declared, “Taking away the little vision someone has left by making him or her wear black out glasses is dangerous, absurd, and undoubtedly illegal. It is certainly no accommodation.”

The new policy has been shocking to Scheidies and other members of the visually impaired community, “It is very hard for me to grasp” Scheidies says, “how forcing someone to become ‘more disabled’ is ever a way to level the playing field.” Considering Scheidies medical background, he understands how the new procedure is extremely detrimental, “As a physical therapist, I am very aware of the medical effects of making yourself blind and then attempting to run as fast as you can.  The result is loss of balance, vertigo, disorientation and significant risk of falling.  This rule puts not only the person wearing the glasses at risk but all other competitors on the course.  It is extremely dangerous.”

However, the ITU retorts, “The elimination of the black-out glasses rule was proposed for 2012 but couldn’t be done without a new classification system.  ITU is committed to having the new system ready by 2013, which will result in a full revision.”

Due to past failed promises, Scheidies is still skeptical of their ability to follow-through.


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April 29, 2012 · 6:47 pm

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