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Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012
By JERRY WOLFFE
Of The Oakland Press
A federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a visually impaired running champion charging he was discriminated against by national and international organizations which require him to wear “black out glasses” to eliminate any remaining vision he has during races.
Lawyers for world-class runner Aaron Scheidies, formerly of Farmington, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Detroit Wednesday against USA Triathlon, International Triathlon Union and 3-D Racing LLC to stop the organizations from enforcing “discriminatory and dangerous race requirements for blind and visually impaired participants.”
“This is the last thing I would want to do to anybody,” Scheidies, 30, said of being the plaintiff in the lawsuit. “I have tried to work with them for two years. I am being the voice of all the blind and vision-impaired athletes in the community because they have come to me with their complaints asking for help.”
He said when he has “attempted to use the blackout glasses, I have gotten very disoriented, had vertigo and (am) not able to focus on running. I’ve ran into a pole or ditch during races. The worst part of it is that I have ran into other competitors. I was lucky in the past that no one got hurt,” Scheidies said.
During races, visually impaired athletes had been classified into different groups based on their ability to see. Scheidies has about 20 percent vision, but under the new rules he’d be required to run in darkness because of glasses that are covered with black tape so that they block out all light and motion.
The organizations say this “levels the playing field” for visually impaired triathletes and marathoners who compete with able-bodied runners at events.
A spokeswoman for USA Triathlon in Colorado Springs, Colo. Thursday afternoon refused comment.
Attorney Richard Bernstein of Farmington Hills said, “There is no way the Americans with Disabilities Act will allow you to make someone more disabled as an accommodation.
“The idea is absolutely illegal and violates all the basic concepts of the ADA,” said Bernstein, who is blind, of the new rule.
Bernstein added: “Such a black out glasses rule shows incredibly horrific judgment on the part of the defendants because you are not only putting blind and visually impaired athletes in danger but are creating an ultra-hazardous situation for all competitors.
“These defendants have absolutely no regard for federal law.”
The case was to be heard by U.S. District Court Judge Patrick J. Duggan. The organizations have 24 days to respond to the lawsuits, Bernstein said.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, we enacted the ADA to promote inclusion,” said Scheidies. “It’s been a pretty good improvement but rules like this is pushing us back in time and that is really sad.”
Scheidies, a professional athlete who holds a Ph.D. in Physical Therapy, is a seven-time World Champion and an eight-time triathlon National Champion.
He has competed in more than 200 triathlons and has successfully completed the Ironman Competition, which requires a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and full marathon, 26.2 miles.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that athletic competitions are covered by the ADA.
Scheidies planned to compete in the June 17 Motor City Triathlon on Belle Isle. However, the organizations said any blind or visually impaired runner who refuses to wear the blackout glasses, even if it increases their lack of sight, will be disqualified from the race.
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