Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No change in WCF attitude to powered wheelchairs

When issues concerning wheelchair curling arise at the World Curling Federation, the executive looks to their vice-President Kate Caithness, for guidance. Wheelchair curling is very much "her baby.'

To see how closely and emotionally involved she is, you have only to read the Autumn 2009 issue of Paralympian Magazine (pdf). Without her, not only would wheelchair curling not be standing on a world stage; it is doubtful that Canadian wheelchair users would be playing at all.

The CCA created a team so that Canada would be represented at the World Championships. Then BC, under Linda Moore, were determined that Ontario wheelchair curlers, who made up the original team, would not go unchallenged so CurlBC spent money to create a team. Eight years later we have eight provinces and nine provincial teams, represented at our own national championships.

So we owe Kate Caithness a debt of gratitude for pushing the sport into existence. Her latest project has been to re-examine eligibility and assessment procedures that may bring even more participation.

Which makes it all the more puzzling why the WCF stands by its recommendation that powered wheelchairs be banned from WCF sponsored competition, including World Championships and the Paralympics.

Below is an extract from my January Wheelchair Watch (Issue 4) column which outlines the issues as I see them.

Though wheelchair curling claims only a small part of the attention of the delegates to the semi-annual World Curling Federation meetings, big issues were at stake at Aberdeen last December. WCF vice-President Kate Caithness presented a paper proposing eligibility changes. She also addressed the present absence of an appeal procedure of an assessor's determination of player eligibility, either for or against.

But the meeting failed to lift the legally dubious ban on power wheelchairs in WCF competition. If evidence existed that power chairs afforded a competitive advantage, or damaged the ice surface, the WCF should (and would) have offered it. Without it the ban appears unwarranted discrimination towards a whole class of otherwise eligible disabled curlers.

Those familiar with issues of discrimination know that one should never underestimate the prevalence of blind prejudice. A senior WCF official that I spoke to directly (not Caithness) suggested that power wheelchair users should just use manual chairs instead - presumably while eating cake.
WCF officials have declined to respond to requests for the rationale behind their support for the ban, beyond saying that a decision will be made at the meeting next April in Cortina.

It may be an uphill battle to persuade delegates to that meeting to go against the recommendation of the WCF executive. Most will be unfamiliar with wheelchair curling and probably will not have given much thought to the notion that people with disabilities so significant they require use of powered wheelchairs, also deserve an opportunity to compete.

But it is an effort very much worth making, and I urge you to seek out and lobby your delegates, and raise the issue with your member associations. This ban can and should be lifted.

1 comment:

Garry Parker said...

Re the power wheelchair issue described on Page 43 of the current SWEEP - reminds me of the Casey Martin legal case in the USA a number of years back that was finally decided in Mr. Martin's favour by the US Supreme Court. Mr. Martin was a US professional golfer with a mobility problem and could only compete on the PGA by using a power golf cart. When he initially raised the idea, the PGA's knee-jerk response was NO - sound familiar ? He took legal action, lost at the lower court levels and had to go the US Supreme Court where he won !

It also reminds me of the CCA's knee-jerk reaction when, after they needlessly banned delivery sticks in June 2003 from officiated Canadian curling on a motion proposed by the Board of Directors, the Canadian Human Rights Commission ** ACCEPTED ** my human rights disability complaint about this on the basis that a knee problem caused by many years of curling with a slider was a disability FOR CURLING PURPOSES. The CCA's reaction was to call in their lawyer, spend about $50,000 in legal fees and wait until I got to the point where proceeding could get very, very expensive for myself which, as simply an individual curling volunteer, I was not prepared to do - as I'm sure the CCA's lawyer knew right from the start ! By the way, if the CCA had done nothing about this matter back in 2003, pretty well every curling club in Canada would have earned more revenue from stickcurlers in the past 6 years + had more volunteers.