Triathlon Organisations Sued Over Discriminatory Rule

by Nivea Serrao

A legally blind triathlete has filed a federal lawsuit against three racing organisations contesting a rule which requires visually impaired athletes to wear “black out glasses” when they compete, essentially removing any vision they may have left.

The suit was filed by Aaron Scheidies, a seven time triathlon World Champion, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on Wednesday.

Named in the complaint are two triathlon governing bodies, USA Triathlon and International Triathlon Union (ITU), and a sponsor and organiser of racing events in Detroit, 3-D Racing LLC. All three organisations are charged with enforcing a rule that goes against the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

By requiring athletes to wear these “blackout glasses”, these organisations are discriminating against the blind and visually impaired by denying them equal access to athletic competitions. Athletes who do not comply with this rule are not allowed to participate.

In the complaint, Scheidies argues that forcing partially blind competitors to wear these glasses poses “substantial danger to not only the competitor but those around them”. He remembers a practice run with the glasses on. Though running with a guide, he hit his head on a pole, fell into a ditch and ran off the road several times.

The reason that these glasses are such a hazard is that someone who is visually impaired or legally blind, like Scheidies, still relies on what vision they have left. They are not trained to be able to function like someone who is completely blind. Therefore, as the complaint states, wearing these glasses causes “embarrassment, humiliation, harassment and emotional distress”.

The ITU have required athletes compete in these glasses since 20120. A recent statement attempts to explain the reasoning behind the decision: “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.”

The rule is devastating to Scheidies who competes in triathlons on a regular basis. To date, he’s competed in over 200 triathlons worldwide. He’s been named National Champion eight times, and World Champion seven. In 2005, he successfully completed the Iron Man Triathlon, which requires a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a full 26.2 mile marathon done consecutively. With this new rule, participating in a triathlon requires that he place himself in physical danger every time he wishes to compete.

“I have spent every second of my life figuring out how to succeed with the vision I have,” said Scheidies in a statement. “A fully blind individual spends every second of their life figuring out how to succeed with the vision they have.  This rule puts the partially sighted person back to day one of figuring out how to succeed.”

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