Blind Athlete Takes a Stand

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 by Marissa Kam

A legally blind triathlete filed a lawsuit on Wednesday over  a rule requiring visually impaired participants to wear blackout glasses.

Plaintiff Aaron Scheidies, 30, will challenge three triathlon groups, who say the regulation gives each participant equal footing during the marathon portion of the race.

Despite having only 20 percent of his vision, Scheidies is a seasoned athlete, a seven-time World Champion and eight time National Champion. He has completed numerous triathlons, including the Ironman competition. In 2011, he was nominated for an Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly (ESPY) Award.  The complaint, filed  on Wednesday in the  U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, says the regulation enforced by the three groups–International Triathlon Union, USA Triathlon, and 3D LLC racing– violate the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. “Taking away the little vision someone has left by making him or her wear blackout glasses is dangerous, absurd and undoubtedly illegal,” says Richard Bernstein, Scheidies’ lawyer.

In addition, Scheidies says the rule puts not only himself at risk, but endangers competitors around him. Users of the glasses lose any residual vision they have, resulting in loss of balance and coordination. When Scheidies first used blackout glasses, he hit his head on a pole, fell into a ditch, and ran off course. He says,“It was so scary and brought tears to my eyes.  I felt defeated and less of a human being.”

In a comment to CNN.com, International Triathlon Union stated, “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.” ITU, also went on to say that changing the rule would force an entire reworking of a new classification system.

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