Lets talk disability classification in para sports

The IFSC (international federation for sport climbing) has recently stated they are moving to IPC classifications from 2021.

This separates athletes into the following 10 eligible impairments:

  • Impaired Muscle Power – Athletes with Impaired Muscle Power have a Health Condition that either reduces or eliminates their ability to voluntarily contract their muscles in order to move or to generate force. Examples of eligible impairments are paraplegia, a spinal cord injury, post – polio syndrome and spina bifida
  • Impaired Passive Range of Movement – Athletes with Impaired Passive Range of Movement have a restriction or a lack of passive movement in one or more joints. This may result from contracture resulting from chronic joint immobilisation or trauma 
  • Limb Deficiency – Athletes with Limb Deficiency have total or partial absence of bones or joints as a consequence oftrauma (for example traumatic amputation), illness (for example amputation due to bone cancer) or congenital limb deficiency (for example dysmelia).
  • Leg Length Difference – Athletes with Leg Length Difference have a difference in the length of their legs as a result of a disturbance of limb growth, or as a result of trauma.
  • Short Stature – Examples of an Underlying Health Condition that may lead to Short Stature include achondroplasia, growth hormone dysfunction, and osteogenesis imperfecta. 
  • Hypertonia – Athletes with Hypertonia have an increase in muscle tension and a reduced ability of a muscle to stretch caused by damage to the central nervous system. This may be as a result of Cerebral Palsy, a Traumatic Brain Injury or a stroke.
  • Ataxia – Athletes with Ataxia have uncoordinated movements caused by damage to the central nervous system. This may be caused by the conditions/events listed in hypertonia or by MS.
  • Athetosis – Athletes with Athetosis have continual slow involuntary movements. The examples listed by IPC here are Cerebral Palsy, a traumatic brain injury and stroke.
  • Vision impairment – reduced or no vision caused by damage to the optic nerves or optical pathways or visual cortex of the brain.
  • Intellectual impairment – Athletes with an Intellectual Impairment have a restriction in intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour in which affects conceptual, social and practical adaptive skills required for everyday life. This Impairment must be present before the age of 18. 

It then goes to list a number of categories of health conditions that are not underlying health conditions. These are as follows:

  1. Conditions that primarily cause pain (fibromyalgia, CRPS, Myofascial pain syndrome)
  2. Conditions that primarily cause fatigue (ME/CFS)
  3. Primarily cause hypermobility or hypotonia (EDS)
  4. Primarily psychological or psychosomatic in nature (Conversion disorders or PTSD)

So what are the problems with this?

a) Using the same basic criteria for a range of sports excludes people who can’t run due to pain/fatigue/joint instability can and has excluded people from wheelchair basketbal, tennis and other sports that rely on either being able to run or use a wheelchair.

b) It’s completely misunderstanding ME/CFS. Take me for example. I have reduced sensation in my legs, feet and left hand often. But unless I get scans and lumber punctures to see if it’s something brain/cci related and they come back with something I’d probably be excluded from para-sports purely because the IPC thinks my condition is primarily fatigue when fatigue is the tip of the iceberg. It’s unbearable pressure in the base of my skull, dizziness, difficulty with positional changes, reduced sensation, extreme muscle weakness and reduced power in my legs and I’ve always had poor proprioception and co-ordination. Although this isn’t an issue for me right now. I’m not well enough to compete in any sport and do my very intense masters course it would be nice to have the option and it hurts that yet another organisation is failing to properly understand ME/CFS.

c)Expressly excluding EDS (unless the athlete also has an eligible impairment + EDS) is wrong. Yes it fluctuates and athletes with EDS may need regular evaluations and some wouldn’t even fall within para categories if they were amended but EDS impairs ability to perform in a variety of ways. Our hyper-mobile joints means it takes more power to do what a non hyper-mobile person can, we often have issues with fatigue, brain fog and positional changes. We can have poor proprioception and get frequently injured.

d) It’s not considering everything else that can impair ability to perform that comes with a “Non-eligible” underlying health condition. The fatigue, brain fog, inability to concentrate, the pain, slow healing, dizzyness. These are all real issues and I know they can be hard to quanitify but nevertheless there should be an option for those who fall outside the 10 categories that doesn’t make the competition unfair for people within the 10 categories.

e) For an organisation that preaches accessibility and inclusivity in sports it just doesn’t feel right to have this list of non eligible impairments.

f) People who have worked for years to get to where they are, are now being exlcuded from competing. Their career ending prematurely due to some critieria.

So? What should change? I understand the need for strict measurable criteria to ensure the competition is fair for everyone. Especially in sports where it comes down to a tenth of a second or point. It’s definitely hard to find the balance. But I think there is a way to include everyone whose disability impacts their sport and wants to compete and is able to get to the required standard.

I think different sports should be able to have different criteria and still be able to make a bid to be a Paralympic sport if not already one. Honestly, all wheelchair sports should be accessible to anyone who can’t do the able bodied equivalent because they can’t run or stand for a long period of time. It may mean playing around with the categories to ensure it’s fair but the pay off is accessibility for all. Secondly, we need diverse teams making these decisions. We need people with a range of disabilities and from a range of ethnic, gender and socio-economic backgrounds in the room. This will mean any blindspots will be pointed out and considered, hopefully leading to less unfair exclusion. Assessors also need to have proper education about lesser known impairments that athletes may present with. To ensure a full, fair and non biased evalation.

As a climber. I really want all aspects of the sport to be accessible to all. Yes I may be climbing like a beginner right now because I’ve been so sick this year and I still love climbing regardless of my grade and limited ability. But I also enjoyed competing when I was younger and in the beginning part of this year. If our disability impacts our sport we should have the option for both. Regardless of the underlying health condition.

Let’s Talk: Discriminatory Job Adverts

Okay, this one has been coming for a while because subtly discriminative job adverts are an issue of mine and sometimes less subtly.

Why?

Because finding a job with a disability is hard enough and in the UK the Equality Act 2010 is meant to prevent disability discrimination in the workplace – from the application stage.

I’m not going to get into a debate about whether it does this well enough or not but I am going to discuss some of the parts of job adverts I’ve seen that are somewhat discriminatory.

  • We are looking for a high energy individual – My condition causes fatigue but it doesn’t mean I can’t do the job well.
  • Must be able to drive – If the job doesn’t require significant travel and is in a place accessible by public transport why do I need to be able to drive? There are many reasons why someone with a disability wouldn’t be able drive and this exempts you from the job even if driving isn’t necessary to perform the job well.
  • Must be able to lift X amount – If it’s an office role requiring mainly desk based work it would usually be a reasonable adjustment to delegate the lifting part of the role to another member of the team
  • Must be physically fit – unless it’s a role that actually requires this I think this one is self-explanatory
  • Good health record
  • Physically and mentally healthy
  • Flexible – flexible in what sense? How flexible? This may also be discriminatory to women who often have more childcare needs than men. Yes we may be flexible but only within certain parameters.

We need to work with employers to ensure these phrases don’t crop up in job advertisements, recruiters and disabled candidates are aware of the range of adjustments that may be considered reasonable and that recruiter are open to recruiting disabled candidates and understand that we can be valuable members of the workforce.

I hope that when the next generation start applying for jobs they won’t face these barriers.

First Time Out In The Wheelchair

This week I went out in my manual wheelchair for the first time half being pushed because I live on streets with uneven pavements (which I’ve learn’t as long as the pavements straight but not if there are any bends!) and I still can’t get myself up a drop curb. I thought I’d write about some of the things I’ve learnt from the experience.

  1. My arms are stronger than I thought they were. I knew my arms had better function than my legs. I trust them more and can feel them properly. But I genuinely thought I’d only manage self propelling 5 feet on a v flat easy surface before they just gave up.
  2. Why can’t all pavements be level?
  3. People were a lot nicer than I expected. I didn’t encounter any Karen’s on this trip.
  4. Can people please put signs for COVID entry and exit sides at a wheelchair users eyeline before they have to choose a side of ribbon to go on.
  5. Can we have counters at banks at a height that is more accessible?
  6. Sometimes people do expect you to try and weave around them which is interesting as a new wheelchair user on a busy high-street. Was definitely scared I may run someone over at these points.
  7. I didn’t feel like I was about to pass out or collapse as much, I could feel my legs and was much less grumpy and more chatty (so clearly it’s doing it’s job or atleast half the job)
  8. The skin on my hands, my wrists and my shoulders surprisingly survived but there were deffo a couple of finger dislocations!
  9. I somehow ended up with a bruise on the inside of my upper arm? (EDS skin)
  10. I’ve come a long way in accepting myself since that time last year I had to be wheeled around A&E in a chair.

The advice a can give so far. The practicalities of navigating pavement in a manual wheelchair are a lot harder than you think and you have to go a lot slower than you think or even want to if the ground uneven (Maybe not for the seasoned manual wheelchair user). If you think you need to use a wheelchair you probably do need to and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

On Ableism becoming a wheelchair user

I made the decision the other day to get a wheelchair. It’s a decision I really should have made years ago but I was too scared and I could walk okay when I needed to…. so it was fine right? I mean not really but it’s hard to come to the realisation that you need a aid that many people see is only for people who are paralysed or otherwise literally cannot walk when you can. Adrenaline will keep you on your feet it just really hurts, the pressure in your head gets exponentially worse and it cases payback which limits your ability to do other things. It’s also hard to justify needing a wheelchair when you can climb. I don’t know why because climbing and walking are two completely different types of movement and your able to sit on the mats and rest inbetween.

It’s scary anticipating neighbours simultaneously seeing you walk to the car to go to your nans or the climbing wall or wherever else one goes in the car, but go out in the chair to go to town or the doctors or wherever once I have built up the ability to self propel I may go on my own.

There’s definitely a lot of people my parents included who don’t understand how chronic illnesses fluctuate. If I pace myself okay I can function and with my ME feel okay. Not healthy person okay but ME/CFS okay. Like the day I’m writing this. There’s some inner energy but the symptoms are still there. With my EDS yes my joints would be better if I could get myself more conditioned by climbing more but even then some days they are worse than others. Some days I can’t go into the freezer without partially dislocating a shoulder, others I can.

There’s also a lot of people who think people in wheelchairs somehow also have an intellectual disability – like we can’t speak for themselves.

And the awful “wheelchair bound” no for me it would be some freedom outside of the house with less payback and I know others feel that way.

It’s difficult navigating spaces that aren’t really made for us but it’s better than being stuck in the house.

And that. That would be amazing!

Does anyone else use a wheelchair for certain outings? What ableism have you faced?

Reviewing portrayals of disability in TV: The story of Tracy Beaker

The_Story_of_Tracy_Beaker_Title_Card

So I thought this would be a fun lil project to work on, working my way through various TV shows/episodes and reviewing them on the disability representation in the show. To start, The Story of Tracy Beaker because it was a childhood favourite and I’ve really enjoyed rewatching it! I also now want to read Jaqueline Wilsons newer Tracy Beaker books even though I’m 22 and currently am struggling to find time to read but that’s beside the point. The two characters I want to focus on for this are Layla and Millie.

Layla 

enhanced-613-1449490707-1

Layla has Cerebral Palsy and a big positive is that she is played by an actress with this condition. Disabled actors playing disabled characters is rare in TV and film so I definitely appreciate this! Other pros are:

  • She has a great personality and is a solid character whom viewers can easily become endeared with for reasons other than her disability
  • We get to see the reality of missing out on things when your disabled or have a chronic illness in the episode where she has to miss an exciting day of school for a physio appointment that ends up getting cancelled. Layla not wanting to miss school helps debunk stigma that disabled people are just lazy or the belief that they are lucky to get to miss days of school
  • We see issues with accessibility and  when Duke says “first one to the table” and Layla is unable to run as fast as the others.
  • Tracy uses her age and height as well as able body to get her wings back from Michael. Seeing Layla fit in with the other kids so well and seeing the other kids help her when she needs it but not being overly pushy or protective or pitying sends an important message that disabled children are just children and deserve to be treated with the same respect and in the same way as any other similar child, providing necessary accommodations are made.
  • She seems independent and intelligent for a child of her age through her lines and the fact that she does household chores like everyone else – this is very important for two reasons, one to help dispel the whole disabled people are a burden myth and secondly to show that not all disabled people are stupid.

Cons

  • The only con I really have is that she didn’t get fostered but that’s reality sadly. Although she’s young and cute, having a disability does make her less likely to get fostered.

Milly

p056mwmx

Millie is non verbal until she gets fostered and then she says the best line to Elaine.

Pros

  • The other dumping ground kids suspect her of weird goings on and think she’s scary but eventually realise she’s a scared kid and they should be nice to her
  • Her friendship with Marco and her eventually getting fostered with him
  • Even without lines we see her personality and emotions

Cons

  •  I wish she got more screen time
  • I know Elaine is a pain but I really don’t like how she pity’s and patronises Millie just because she doesn’t speak.

Overall I would give the representation of disability in The Story of Tracy Beaker an 8.5/10! Although this is only my opinion.

There will also be one coming on Tracy Beaker Returns/The dumping ground some point soon so watch this space!

If you have any TV shows and characters to recommend for this series leave it in the comments.