Translator: Silvia Rivera
Reviewer: Denise RQ Thanks for the opportunity
to bring my prospective here. Today what I wanted to talk about is the interface between disabilities sport and society’s appreciation of disability or perception of disability
and how each have changed the other. In order to look forward though,
we need to look back, and what I want to start out with is looking at that medical
model of disability, which we can say was generated
or started just after World War II. I was actually born during
the dependency model. I got polio, living
in Sierra Leone, West Africa, now the heart of Ebola, I got polio when I was three. Myself and my father moved to England, and the point of that story
is that I attended the Chailey Heritage Craft School
for Crippled Children, and that story shows how disability
was seen at that time. So it was a craft school
for crippled children, so that children there
could be trained to do a craft, shoe making, that kind of thing,
in order to get gainful employment. And early wheelchair technology
is an example that reflected that disability model. Not very functional,
out of the medical environment, and when we look
at early prosthesis as we see here, these are generated for the benefit
of the people with disabilities. I’ll suggest to you
that these are more generated to make able-bodied people
feel more comfortable being around people with disabilities. Fortunately, we moved
around about the mid 1970s to taking a more functional
model of disability. The trouble with that is
that our aspiration was for normalization. Normalization being the closer
to able-body, the better. An example of normalization, I can kind of stagger up
on braces and crutches, but none of my students
would have every seen me like that, because I can’t do anything
on braces and crutches, but when someone without a disability
sees me up on braces and crutches, I get a comment something like,
“Oh! You’re getting better,” or “You’re getting more normal,”
and there I am with both my arms occupied, not being able to move more
than about 20 meters independently, completed unable to cook
anything or make tea, and I’m thinking: yeah! this is better? That’s because being judged
by that normative standard, the closer it looks to being
able-bodied, the better. Fortunately, with our functional model
of disability, what we started to see was people taking control
of their own functionality. At the same time, as the furthest distance
to race in a wheelchair in international competition
was a 100 meters. Back in 1975, a guy called Bob Hall entered
the Boston Marathon in a wheelchair – that hopefully you can see up there – that still looks very much
like a wheelchair, and completed it in four hours; nothing to write home about. But, as we started seeing
function taken over, we started seeing the development
in wheelchair sport, a very specific wheelchair
oriented equipment. This, for example, is a racing wheelchair. Looks nothing like a regular wheelchair, and in fact, it doesn’t function
like a regular wheelchair, the only thing this wheelchair can do
is go forward very, very quickly. But designed for that purpose is an incredibly efficient
piece of technology that I’ll come back to in a little bit. Here you see one of the ultimate
of functional definition, and this is a sled hockey sled used to
play ice hockey at paralympic competition. [Do] you notice one thing strange
about this wheelchair? It doesn’t have any wheels. We’ve evolved function to the point where
sometimes wheelchairs don’t have wheels. Moving over to amputee sport, my first contact was in 1988, when I was at the Seoul Paralympic Games,
racing for the USA. This guy, Dennis Oehler,
was racing for the USA, and it was the first time I saw a truly functional item
of prosthetic equipment. If you can notice his leg
there in this image, – his right leg is artificial – and if you can maybe
get a look at his foot, his foot is actually planted down. And when you see him go to the line,
he would have to limp to the line, because it was only an efficient
prosthetic when he was running. Because his foot was set
in a running position. But, with that functional prosthetic– Note that it doesn’t look like a leg,
it is not designed to look like a leg, it is designed to have someone running
quickly, running fast, very efficiently. And Oehler did that. He easily held
the world record for running for an athlete with an amputation. But Oehler got out-technologiced by a guy called Tony Volpentest. And what’s cool about Tony Volpentest was that he was a double leg
below knee amputee sprinter. Traditionally, the conception is loosing both legs is a greater disability
than only loosing one leg – we have classification systems
that cover that – but for Volpentest thought
was, “OK, if I don’t have either leg, I can make my legs as long as I want,” consequently increasing his stride length. And here you see Volpentest
beating Oehler in a race Oehler called foul. So now we have someone who is
more disabled than his competitor gaining an advantage from his disability. Ultimately, we put in regulations
with regard to that. I mentioned normalization. You also have the tyranny
of normative thought. Normative thought is that we,
people with disabilities, poor us, we are always at a disadvantage. I’ll give you an illustration of that. If I told you that I was going to give you
a million dollars tomorrow, if you got this question right, or I’d shoot you if you got
this question wrong, so don’t pretend, would you select
my left-hand or my right-hand as representing a person
with a disability? I think you all picked
the right hand, correct? Tell me I’m wrong. I’m right, alright. That’s the social construction
of disability. We are less than when compared
to a normative standard, and that’s what gets brought in regularly. And so we see
athletes like Jim Abbott here, who pitched for ten years
in the major leagues, and he only had one hand. So what did they do as soon as they saw
Jim Abbott, the pitcher, coming out to pitch? Let’s bunt, he has only got one hand. Normative attitude. Who in this world do you think
has had more experiences fielding bunts than somebody who
has only grown up with one hand and he is now pitching
in the major leagues? If they switch their heads on,
they must have understood, he had to be expert at fielding bunts, or he wouldn’t have pitched
in the major leagues. They were still bunting on him
in his tenth year in the major leagues. And here is an image of him,
after pitching a no hitter for the New York Yankees. But you can see how normative
thinking advantaged him. We have here an athlete
called Tony Robles who won a collegiate
wrestling championship a few years ago, and this image shows him with everyone standing up
and applauding his victory, because “My goodness gracious me!
How brave is this individual.” “Only has one leg and here he is winning
a national wrestling championship.” Well, I’m sorry Tony, but you were
a benefactor of normative thinking. Think about this. He has so many advantages, relative to the people
he was setting up to wrestle against. He has only three limbs. How many times were
his opponents wrestling against somebody with only three limbs? Plus, he only had one leg! that meant that he didn’t have
the weight of his second leg. Consequently, his official weight
was 125 pounds and he should’ve been wrestling
at a weight division of 157 pounds. So consequently, the people
who were facing him were smaller than him and had no experience wrestling
this larger person with only one leg. Normative thinking stopped them saying: “Hang on! Does this guy
have an advantage?” There are few people who have thrown away
that normative thinking. The International
Power Lifting Federation, for example, now makes adjustment
for lower body weight. I want to get on to my central thesis
and the idea is valorization. Valorization goes past normalization and says we should be looking
at whatever it is not as how that action compares to
a normative standard or majority standard, but how it compares
on how it’s of worth in and of itself. Oscar Pistorius is
a perfect example of that. When Oscar Pistorius came to be– wanted to race at the Olympics in 2012, of the many legal challenges, normative thinking led them
to evaluate the blade runner with regard to does he have
an advantage or a disadvantage relative to able-bodied runners? And he was able to make his case there. For me, valorized thinking would be
easy doing the same math. And when you look at it biomechanically,
when you look at it physiologically, when you look at the split times, there is no doubt that one thing
we can say about Oscar Pistorious is he wasn’t performing the same act. Consequently, surprisingly enough, I don’t think Oscar Pistorius
should’ve raced in the Olympics, because he wasn’t doing the same thing. He may have visually looked similar
although he did look different, but he just wasn’t performing
the same action. So, the corollary to the blade runner is that at the paralympic games
two weeks later, he was beaten
by another double amputee runner because that double amputee runner
had not reduced his technology in order to be able to compete
in the Olympics. So Oscar Pistorius did not maximize
the technological abilities and the rules that allowed him
to race in the paralympics. He dumbed then down so he could be
close enough to able-bodied to be able to race in the Olympics. Consequently, he lost a race
in the paralympics to another runner, Alan Oliveira you can see here, who had maximized the rules
and had longer limbs there. Question: is that technological doping? Valorization means
look at an action in and of itself. There is no doubt we wouldn’t say the racing wheelchairs,
someone who is racing in a wheelchair, is performing the same act
than someone running. And they are not, because now the fastest time
that a marathon we can run is about two hours and five minutes. The fastest wheelchair racer now
does it in an hour and 22 minutes. No power, no gearing, 40 or 50 minutes
faster than the fastest runner. When you think about that,
for those of us old enough to recognize it that’s some four minute miles
for all 26 miles. We should value that
as an athletic activity in and of itself and nothing to how it compares
to people without disabilities. I’m excited about the new wheelchairs
that are showing up. And when you look at
prosthetics advancements think about the picture
with the artificial arm whose wrist is not restricted
by human anatomy. What happens when that wrist
can turn around 360° degrees? We need something new. What we’re seeing now is
the development of new technologies. As soon as we have a new technology,
we have a new sport. And with the combination
of virtual imagery, prosthetics, we will be seeing very different sports
in the future and I would suggest to you that technologically, we’re going to see
the most extreme and best sporting events coming out of the disabled
and paralympic sporting world. Last reflection for you: Roosevelt had to hide that he had polio; did he not? and they went through
many extremes to hide his disability. We just elected a governor
of the State of Texas, who, in his advertising campaigns, made it very, very clear
that he was a wheelchair user. He used his wheelchair
as an advantage, that is our evolution. I think that if we adopt valorization, we start looking at things
for the worth they are. The sky is the limit. Thank you for your time today,
sorry for going a little over. (Applause)

Disability sport is the future | Abu Yilla | TEDxUTA
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3 thoughts on “Disability sport is the future | Abu Yilla | TEDxUTA

  • December 7, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    whats the word he used at 12:17? Sorry im not native speaking english… sounds like carilory just by hearing, but i dont quite get it! awesome video!

  • February 19, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    I have mild CP. I hate when people tell me. that I'm getting better. I don't. view myself as having a. flaw. I've been walking the same since I could walk!

  • February 15, 2018 at 7:02 pm

    interesting perspective but i can't entirely agree with it. even able body sports use technology to gain advantage. i think this also is the reason we have classification systems in place for para-athletics. it makes the competitions are as "fair" as they possibly can be.


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