Sunday, September 11, 2016

Para More

With my annual Aneurysm Awareness Walk coming up on the 17th (this year, my goal is simply to go as far as I can in four hours [probably around 2.5 to three miles]), and the summer Paralympics now underway in Rio, I've been thinking a lot about disability in its various forms.

As an employee of a disability insurance company,  I'm reminded every day of the dichotomy between public, somewhat fuzzy legal definitions of disability and the more prescriptive definition used to qualify one to be "on disability" benefits from a private insurer or Social Security Disability Insurance. The ADA states that, "An individual with a disability is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment." The Social Security Administration, on the other hand, says, "To receive SSDI benefits, you must:
  • Not be able to do the work that you did before;
  • Not be able to do other kinds of work because of your medical condition(s); and
  • Have a disability that has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death."

As a person Working While Disabled, I have to reconcile those two definitions and recognize that I am simultaneously defying the latter definition while being perceived as the former. All the while not allowing the label to limit my achievements.

I'm also in the process of forming a disabled employees network at my company, because I think there's a distinct synergy between a disability experience and the work we do, even without being defined by the term.

And then there's the Paralympics, which simultaneously reminds me that -- despite having little to no athletic ambitions beyond the aforementioned charity walk -- I'm probably both too old and possibly not disabled enough to enter the competition. Mind you, each event has its own, specific "Minimum disability criteria" (Goalball for the visually impaired, anyone?), and my disabilities probably do fall under some of the requirements: 

  • Hypertonia: Abnormal increase in muscle tension and a reduced ability of a muscle to stretch, due to a neurological condition, such as cerebral palsy, brain injury or multiple sclerosis.
  • Ataxia: Lack of co-ordination of muscle movements due to a neurological condition, such as cerebral palsy, brain injury or multiple sclerosis.
  • Athetosis Motor dysfunction characterized by unbalanced, involuntary muscle movements and difficulty maintaining a symmetrical posture.

Again, it's a matter of perception and probably a doctor's note. I have all my limbs, my muscles are uninjured; it's just the computer that controls them that's on the fritz.

Of course, after writing all this, I Googled, "Paralympics cycling stroke" and learned that a 27-year-old British cyclist who's suffered a stroke and brain hemorrhage  just won Gold in Rio. I could never have done that in my twenties on a bicycle, never mind in my forties on a recumbent tricycle. My little bit of research suggests that recumbent trikes are reserved for paraplegic or amputee hand cyclists and that brain injured cyclists either ride standard bicycles or standard bikes converted to trikes. Though I did find and sign a petition to create a separate recumbent tricycle event for athletes with Cerebral Palsy, because currently Recumbent pedal tricycles are not permitted in Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) para-cycling competitions.

Anything's para possible, but I don't think that's a direction I'm going to take. Maybe Boccia is more my speed, anyway.

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