Visually Impaired Athlete Challenges New Running Regulation

By Natalia Lehaf

A legally blind world class triathlete filed a lawsuit against three major triathlon groups in response to the new requirement that all visually impaired people must wear blackout glasses in their races. These glasses will take away any remaining vision a person may have. The rule was put into place in 2010 as a way to ensure equality among contenders. Aaron Scheidies, the Plaintiff, finds this law to be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

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The ADA fights discrimination and is a safety net those with disabilities can fall back on. It addresses the demand of equality in competitions and athletic events. Referring to this clause and numerous other incidents, Scheidies finds this new regulation to be both discriminatory and dangerous. The written complaint submitted to the United States District Court states that Scheidies is being treated as a “second class citizen” as a result of this new rule. It also states that “the Defendents know or should know that requiring a legally blind person to compete totally blind poses substantial danger to not only the competitor but those around them,” in regards to the dangerous nature of the blackout glasses. In an interview with the New York Times Scheidies recalls running “off the road and into a fence” when wearing the glasses.

Essentially, the new rule came about as a result of section changes in races. Rather than three separate sections for visually impaired people (each based on the level of blindness a person struggles with), there is only one section for all visually impaired people. This means that completely blind runners will be running in the same section as runners who have partial vision. Thus, as an attempt to guarantee no runner has an advantage over another, the Defendents found it appropriate to institute this new rule. The Defendents in this case are USA Triathlon, a national organization located in the United States, International Triathlon Union, an international body located in North Vancouver, Canada, and a Michigan Limited Liability Company, a state-wide group located in Detroit. FOX 2 presented a statement released by the International Triathlon Union in which they say that, “This rule is in place only on the run portion, not in the swim and not in the bike portions. No athlete has ever been denied the opportunity to race because of this rule.”

According to his website, Scheidies is a seven-time world champion and eight-time national champion. In 2011, ESPN nominated him for the ESPY Award for Best Athlete with a Disability. He has successfully competed in over 200 triathlons, a major accomplishment for a 30 year old with only 20 percent of the vision of a normal person. Suffering from Stargardt’s disease, in which one’s vision decreases over time, Scheidies has spent his entire life adjusting to his impaired vision. Participating in races (and performing well) is how he overcomes this unfortunate disease. Until the blackout glasses requirement is removed from race bylaws, he plans to put a halt to his athletic career. His lawyer, Richard Bernstein, is legally blind and has also competed in triathlons. Bernstein summarized his case plainly to MyFOXDetroit: “it is simply illegal to require someone to become more disabled as an accommodation for them to be able to compete.”

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