Risky Business

Denying rights is risky business
I recently received an email from a mother of a 12-year-old blind daughter; I will refer to her as Sophie. The mother proceeded to tell me Sophie had been in dance classes for many years; the now 12-year-old was taking a big step and starting pre-point class.
What does pre-point mean for you non-dancers? Point is the type of dancing you often see at the ballet where the dancer is standing on the very tip of their toes. Pre-point is the first step for a dancer before she upgrades to wearing point shoes and dances all the way on toe.

Sophie’s mother told me that her dance teacher had made it clear to both she and Sophie that Sophie would never actually graduate to point because it’s “too dangerous.” I’ll say this, point is tough, it’s hard on the ankles and the feet. You have to have a certain amount of ankle strength to do it, and it’s usually between 11 and 13 years of age that a dancer progresses to point — if they’re ready.

This email made me so sad. Sophie loves to dance just like I always have. She has worked as hard (if not harder) than everyone else to make it to this place. Sophie and her mom are well researched and know the dangers that come with the art, just like dangers in any sport or hobby.

Before I go any further I want to say that safety should always be a priority. However, I also feel that if we as humans worry about safety in all we do, we would all be home on our couches doing nothing. I am a firm believer that like anyone else, blind people have the right to enjoy hobbies, sports, the arts, whatever it is that interests them.

We, as blind people, have the same right as anyone else to make choices, good or bad, with risk or with no risk.

A few years back I headed to Park City, Utah to Utah Olympic Park with some friends. I had always wanted to do one particular activity called the Alpine Slide. The Alpine Slide is a fixed track that runs down the mountain that allows riders to go down on wooden sleds. The track is one of the longest in the world at 3,000 feet (www.utah.com/parkcity).

As I took the lift up the beautiful mountain and stood in line with my sled to go down. I was approached and told I was not allowed to ride the slide. I was perplexed by this and of course asked the reason why. As I suspected I was told it was because of my blindness and it’s too much of a liability for the park.

Now let me give you a few more facts about the slide. Kids as young as 3-years-old are allowed to ride on the lap of an adult and kids as young as 8-years-old can “drive” the sled independently. The sled is on a “fixed” track, meaning drivers do not have any control over the turns or direction. The driver has one joystick that speeds up and slows down the sled.

For me, I could not understand why it was any more dangerous for me to drive than anyone else.

After a lot of discussions with the manager I was actually never allowed to ride this particular slide.
The words liability and safety are used nearly every day with blind people. It’s brought up very frequently all across the county. It seems to be the go-to phrase when people want to stop us from doing something, and in some cases it may be, but it should be the exception to the rule, not the rule.

For me, I am a bit of a thrill seeker. I enjoy venturing out and trying new things.Not everyone is that way, and that’s OK. But I think I, and others like me, who happen to be blind should have the same right to be adventurous (or not) as anyone else.

Whether it’s dancing on point or riding down a 3,000 foot slide, the risk should be ours to make. Sure, Sophie could lose her balance and break an ankle, or I could have fallen off the slide, but it’s a risk we, as blind people, should be allowed to take.

This notion that things are more dangerous for blind people, or that we are a major liability issue is concerning to me. Sure, it’s just a dance class or an adventurous activity, but if we are told “No” to these things, what’s next?

Deja M. Powell is programs manager at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University and a 2008 alumna of the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston.

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