Amputee Sprinter – Disabled or Too-Abled?

From the NY Times comes the story of Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee since early infancy. He runs on carbon fiber prosthetic legs and wants to compete in the Olympics, but now the question has been raised as to whether or not his prostheses give him an unfair advantage.

An Amputee Sprinter: Is He Disabled or Too-Abled?

Published: May 15, 2007

Some are questioning whether Oscar Pistorius’s prosthetic legs give him an unfair advantage over other sprinters.

This issue gets tougher everyday because while the International Olymics Committee frets about unfair advantages, the boundaries between biology, fitness, medicine, diet, training, equipment, clothing, etc. are getting more and more blurred all the time — for instance, it’s not hard to imagine biofeedback devices built into shoes & clothing, or even under our skin… The other factor here is our ever-increasing ability to measure all this down to infinitesimal detail, but not an equally fine tool for spinning out the ethics of it all.

So, should racers be held back from competing (or ‘handicapped’???) because they rely on potentially advantageous technology such as high-tech prostheses? Should they be required to wear prostheses that match the biomechanics of a human leg? Whose leg? (I hope not mine because that would eliminate them from the competition!) They COULD level the playing field, though, by offering everyone the option to have carbon fiber prosthetics instead of their bio-limited legs… Hmmm, any takers?

In other words, this issue in sports very much parallels that of education and AT — the level playing field is theoretical and no one really plays there, (even with an unlimited budget). The best we can do is maybe what my dad always said, ‘we can’t treat you equally, but we’ll do our best to be fair.” At least in education, we can help people discover talents, tools and strategies without needing to have everyone run the same track or pick a single winner.

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