Paralympic Games — Learning Disabilities

Does is seem right that athletes with learning disabilities are to be allowed to compete against physically disabled athletes in the 2012 Paralympic Games?

To me it doesn’t seem fair. The whole point of having a separate set of games, I thought, was that athletes with physical disabilities are at a disadvantage when competing against able-bodied athletes.

Learning difficulties create difficulties of their own, but are they likely to adversely affect a person’s ability to move at speed/with strength, in the same way as a disability that affects limb function? In broad terms, I’d have thought not. (I say “in broad terms” because clearly some physical disabilities are more likely to affect speed/strength than others.)

All things considered, if I were a physically disabled athlete who had put in years of training I think I’d be feeling pretty fed up right now. Perhaps there should be a third category of olympic competition, specifically for those with learning disabilities…? It’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out.

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8 Responses to Paralympic Games — Learning Disabilities

  1. alan.sloman says:

    There are some Premier Division football clubs where seemingly having ‘learning difficulties’ is a prerequisite for being included in the team.

    I do agree though – it seems overly keen on ‘political; correctness’ without looking at the problems it will throw up.

    • peewiglet says:

      There are some Premier Division football clubs where seemingly having ‘learning difficulties’ is a prerequisite for being included in the team.

      Only Premier Division clubs??? *g*

      Seriously, though, I think it’s wrong. ISTM to be patronising and unfair to disabled athletes to treat them as though the simple fact of a ‘disability’, of whatever sort, justifies chucking them into one large melting pot.

  2. John Hesp says:

    “Learning difficulties create difficulties of their own, but are they likely to adversely affect a person’s ability to move at speed/with strength, in the same way as a disability that affects limb function?”

    Does that depend on how you define the term “learning disabilities”.

    “The World Health Organisation defines learning disabilities as a ‘state of arrested or incomplete mind’.”

    http://www.bild.org.uk/pdfs/05faqs/ld.pdf

    So I would imagine the answer to your question is “in some cases”.

    • peewiglet says:

      It prolly does depend upon how they’re defined. I was taking a broad brush approach, and assuming that most learning disabilities are unlikely to affect bodily function. Mental impairments significant enough to interfere with bodily function are not normally described as learning disabilities, in my (admittedly relatively limited) experience.

      Looking at the WHO definition in the document you’ve referred to, though, I see that they define a learning disability as follows.

      The World Health Organisation defines learning disabilities as ‘a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind’. Somebody with a learning disability is said also to have ‘significant impairment of intellectual
      functioning’ and ‘significant impairment of adaptive/social functioning’.

      This means that the person will have difficulties understanding, learning and remembering new things, and in generalising any learning to new situations. Because of these difficulties with learning, the person may have difficulties with a number of social tasks, for example
      communication, self-care, awareness of health and safety.

      In broad terms, that does reflect what I had in mind i.e. the sort of disability that’s more likely to hold a person back in a learning and/or social context, rather than the kind of thing likely to impede a person’s abililty to run/jump/lift etc. Clearly an inability to process information can get in the way of a person’s ability to learn how to use his/her body to the best effect, but not in the same way as (for instance) the loss of a limb.

      Basically, it just doesn’t seem fair to me to allow able-bodied athletes to compete against physically disabled athletes in games which are largely physical. ISTM that that’s why the Paralympic Games were introduced in the first place. To do that seems to me to be a bit like deciding that people suffering from physical disabilities should get extra time to complete exams, regardless of whether or not their disability actually places them at a disadvantage in that context, simply because people suffering from other sorts of disabilities (dyslexia, for instance) *are* at a disadvantage.

      So, what d’you think? *g*

  3. John Hesp says:

    “So, what d’you think? *g*”

    You can tell I’m cautious/nervous of being drawn into a serious discussion again can’t you. 🙂

    To be honest I have trouble understanding the appeal of any organised spectator sport and never watch the Olympics or the Paralympics, so don’t really know what I’m talking about (nothing new there). How do the paralympics put physically disabled people on a level playing field (pun not intended)? Do people with missing arms compete with people with missing legs in running races? Like I say, I’ve never watched it so have no idea.

    You’re right that somebody who has a slight learning disability would have an advantage over somebody who has a severe physical disability, but so would somebody who only had a slight physical disability. Presumably one has to have a certain level of disability to compete, which is an idea I’m very uncomfortable with.

    John

    • peewiglet says:

      I don’t really watch much sport on TV at all, as I find it boring (well, other than the hockey, which is slightly less boring 🙂 So I’ve not watched a lot of Olympic or Paralympic coverage.

      How do the paralympics put physically disabled people on a level playing field (pun not intended)? Do people with missing arms compete with people with missing legs in running races? Like I say, I’ve never watched it so have no idea.

      I was assuming that athletes suffering from any manner of disability would compete together, but now that I’ve dug around a bit further it looks as though I was wrong, which is good *g* Here’s what I found in Wiki.

      Disability categories

      [12]

      * Amputee: Athletes with a partial or total loss of at least one limb.
      * Cerebral Palsy: Athletes with non-progressive brain damage, for example cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, stroke or similar disabilities affecting muscle control, balance or coordination.
      * Intellectual Disability: Athletes with a significant impairment in intellectual functioning and associated limitations in adaptive behavior. (This category is currently suspended.)
      * Wheelchair: Athletes with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities which require them to compete in a wheelchair.
      * Visually Impaired: Athletes with vision impairment ranging from partial vision, sufficient to be judged legally blind, to total blindness.
      * Les Autres: Athletes with a physical disability that does not fall strictly under one of the other five categories, such as dwarfism, multiple sclerosis or congenital deformities of the limbs such as that caused by thalidomide (the name for this category is the French for “the others”).

      These categories apply to both summer and winter Paralympics.
      [edit] Classification

      Within the six disability categories the athletes still need to be divided according to their differing level of impairment.

      The classification systems differ from sport to sport, in accordance with the different skills required to perform the sport.

      Archery: Archery is open to athletes with a physical disability. Classification is broken up into three classes: W1, spinal cord and cerebral palsy athletes with impairment in all four limbs. W2, wheelchair users with full arm function. Standing, Amputee, Les Autres and Cerebral Palsy standing athletes. Some athletes in the standing group will sit on a high stool for support but will still have their feet touching the ground.

      Athletics: Athletics is open to all disability groups and uses a functional classification system. A brief classification guide is as follows: prefixing F for field athletes or T for track athletes. F or T 11-13 are visually impaired, F or T 20 are learning difficulty, F or T 31-38 are cerebral palsy, F or T 41- 46 amputee and les autres, T 51- 54 wheelchair track athletes and F51- 58 wheelchair field athletes.

      Basketball: Basketball is open to wheelchair athletes and athletes with a learning disability. Wheelchair athletes are classified according to their physical ability and are given a points rating between 1 – 4.5. One pointers being the most severely disabled and 4.5 the least disabled. A team on court comprises five players and may not exceed a total of 14 points at any given time.

      Boccia: Boccia is open to athletes with cerebral palsy who compete from a wheelchair. Classification is split into four groups; BC1: Athletes are either throwers or foot players (with cerebral palsy). Athletes may compete with an assistant BC2: For throwing players (with cerebral palsy). Players may not have an assistant BC3: Athletes (with severe disability) who use an assistive device and may be assisted by a person, but this assistant must keep their back to the court. BC4: For throwing players. Players may not have an assistant (Non cerebral palsy)

      Cycling: Cycling is open to amputee, les autre, cerebral palsy and visually impaired athletes who compete in individual road race and track events. Classification is split into divisions 2, 3 and 4 for athletes with cerebral palsy, athletes in division two being the most severely handicapped progressing to division 4 which includes physically more able athletes. Visually impaired athletes compete together with no separate classification system. They ride in tandem with a sighted guide. Amputee, Spinal Cord Injury and Les Autre competitors compete within the classification groupings LC1 – essentially for riders with upper limb disabilities, LC2 – essentially for riders with disabilities in one leg but who are able to pedal normally, LC3 – essentially for riders with a handicap in one lower limb who will usually pedal with one leg only, and LC4 for riders with disabilities affecting both legs.

      Equestrian: Equestrian is open to all disability groups, with riders divided into four grades. Grade 1 incorporates severely disabled riders with Cerebral Palsy, Les Autres and Spinal Cord Injury. Grade 2 incorporates Cerebral Palsy, Les Autres, Spinal Cord injury and Amputee riders with reasonable balance and abdominal control. Grade 3 incorporates Cerebral Palsy, Les Autres, Amputee, Spinal Cord Injury and totally blind athletes with good balance, leg movement and co-ordination. Grade 4 incorporates Cerebral Palsy, Les Autres, Amputee, Spinal Cord injury and Visually Impaired. This last group comprises ambulant athletes with either impaired vision or impaired arm/leg function.

      Fencing: Fencing is open to wheelchair athletes. There are only three classes; class A incorporates those athletes with good balance and recovery and full trunk movement; class B those with poor balance and recovery but full use of one or both upper limbs; class C athletes with severe physical impairment in all four limbs.

      Football: Football is open to athletes with cerebral palsy and includes classes 5, 6, 7 and 8. All classes comprise ambulant athletes; class 5 being the least physically able, progressing through to class 8 who are minimally affected. Teams must include at least one athlete from either class 5 or 6.

      Goalball: Goalball is open to visually impaired athletes who must wear “black out” masks to ensure all participants can compete equally, therefore eliminating the need for classification.

      Judo: Judo is open to visually impaired athletes. There is no classification as such, participants being divided into weight categories in the same way as able-bodied judo athletes.

      Powerlifting: Powerlifting is open to athletes with a physical disability. Classification is by weight category as in able bodied powerlifting competition.

      Sailing: Sailing is open to amputee, cerebral palsy, visually impaired, wheelchair and les autre athletes. Classification for the Sonar is based on a functional points system with low points for severely disabled athletes rising by scale to high points for less disabled athletes. Each crew of three is allowed a maximum of 12 points between them. The singled handed 2.4m can be crewed regardless of points but the sailor must have at least a minimum level of disability which prevents them from competing on equal terms with able bodied sailors.

      Shooting: Shooting is open to athletes with a physical disability. There are only two classes of competition, wheelchair and standing.

      Swimming: Classification is divided into three groups: S1 to S10 are those with physical impairment. S1 will have the most severe impairment and an S10 a lesser impairment, for example a hand amputation. S11 to S13 are those with a visual impairment. S11 will have little or no vision, S12 can recognise the shape of a hand and have some ability to see, S13 greater vision than the other two classes but less than 20 degrees of vision. S14 is for athletes with a learning difficulty.

      Table Tennis: Table tennis is open to athletes with a physical or learning difficulty spread over 11 classes. Classes 1 to 5 encompass athletes competing from a wheelchair with class 1 being the most severely disabled and class 5 the least disabled. Classes 6 to 10 comprise ambulant athletes with class 6 the most severely disabled and class 10 the least. Class 11 is for athletes with a learning difficulty.

      Tennis: Tennis is open to athletes with a mobility related disability which means that they cannot compete on equal terms with able bodied tennis players. The game is played from a wheelchair, with two classes, wheelchair and quadriplegic (disability in all four limbs).

      Volleyball: Volleyball is open to athletes with a physical disability and has both a sitting and standing event. In sitting volleyball the court is smaller than standard and has a lower net. Standing volleyball uses a full sized court and normal height net. In the sitting games the only classification is the minimal disability ruling; athletes may compete if they have a disability that prevents them from competing on equal terms with able bodied athletes.

      Wheelchair rugby: Athletes are classified on a points system similar to wheelchair basketball, with the most severely disabled athlete being graded 0.5 points rising to 3.5 points for the physically more able. Each team has four players and is allowed a maximum of 8 points on court at any one time.

      So, it looks as though an attempt is made to differentiate between disabilities, in order to ensure, as far as possible, that people get a fair chance to compete against others suffering from a similar sort of disability.

      Thanks for prompting me to look more closely into it. I was thinking that somebody with, for instance, dyslexia would be able to compete in, for instance, a running race with a person using a prosthetic leg, which pretty obviously doesn’t seem fair. On looking again, though, it seems more likely that those two athletes would be in different classes of competition.

      What brought the subject to mind, btw, is that the learning disability category was suspended after the 2000 games, because the Spanish were shown to have fielded a gold medal-winning team in the basketball that was largely made up of non-disabled members. Doh… They had to give the medal back. Just this week, though, a decision was made by the IPC to reinstate the category.

  4. John Hesp says:

    “Thanks for prompting me to look more closely into it.”

    Ditto, and well done for digging up the goods. Now if I happen to see a bit on TV I’ll understand what’s going on. It always seemed a bit odd before.

  5. alansloman says:

    Phew! I feel exhausted just having read all that research. (For some reason, just recently I am being asked for all manner of passwords to get comments on WordPress blogs – no idea why but I probably ticked a wrong box or something and missed the comments on this thread.)

    So – thanks for that – I now ‘get it’. I have to admit to not realising any of the above before (even having watched coverage on the telly – so it couldn’t have been explained very well if at all at the time)

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