Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Disabled Advantage

According to a recent New York Times article, some people are under the impression that reasonable accommodations, made for people with disabilities to compete in sports  alongside able-bodied competitors, can actually give that disabled individual an unfair advantage.

I have a physical disability and use an electric wheelchair, yet I compete every week in a USBC-Sanctioned bowling league with my team. About five years ago the USBC decided to look into the issue of accommodations for wheelchair users, and to make a set of rules to guarantee the right of individuals with disabilities to compete in bowling leagues and tournaments.

It used to be illegal to propel a bowling ball using anything but your hand, but now the use of rails (stationary, or mounted directly on wheelchairs) or other mechanical aides are allowed. However, just because there is a rule protecting my right, this doesn't necessarily preclude issues I may have with other bowlers who may feel that I have an advantage propelling my ball with my wheelchair instead of my arm.

What I have found is that just about everyone is initially thrilled and encouraging when I roll up onto the lanes with my team and bowl and participate in the activity. However, let's not forget that this is a competitive sport… and when I got good enough to start influencing the skill of my team, and started excelling, some of those same people started more than a few fights claiming that I had an unfair advantage. I have heard accusations of not having to deal with approach stickiness, grip problems, release inconsistencies, and lots of other complaints. However, from my vantage point, able-bodied bowlers still have the advantage because they don't need to deal with wheelchair motor jerkiness, inability to adjust rotation or ball speed or loft, or a myriad of other difficulties I have had to overcome.

When I rolled a 246, was it harder or easier for me to do so than an able-bodied bowler?