Why the US Open 2020 Mistake is so Painful.

Hello, my friends, and happy Monday! I hope you are all doing well and are ready to smash out another week!

Today’s blog is a little different. I want to talk about the controversial decision made by the US open last week and how it brought back some painful memories.

On June 18, the USTA announced the US Open would be played without including the Wheelchair events.  The announcement regarding the cancellation of the Wheelchair division sent the community into an uproar, with no one more devastated than the Athletes themselves.

It is easy to forget, that even though there have been massive improvements, the disabled community continues to struggle for equality.  To be more specific, we struggle to be heard. 

The main issue

When the first statement (since removed) came from the US Open, they failed to tell the public critical information. They failed to tell you that whilst abled bodied athletes where consulted about their event, Wheelchair athletes were not consulted about theirs.   The wheelchair event was withdrawn from the US Open without any involvement at all with the disabled athletes! 

Have you ever felt so powerless?

It is all about inclusion.  

Inclusion was not apart of the US Open decision.
Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

We all have the RIGHT to have choices in shaping our own lives.

The disabled community have always wanted inclusion and to just be heard. If anything, that is what we all want to have in society. The chance to be recognised as equal and to have the same equal opportunities. We want to be more than just people with limitations.   We want the right to have our voices heard when decisions are being made about our livelihood.

My Experience with being excluded from decisions.

Photo by Josie Stephens from Pexels

I have had my own fair share of these experiences.   This was more prominent in my schooling years.

Due to my lack of muscle tone I have difficulty getting off chairs or up from the floor unassisted.  If I was to be honest, I can’t really do either at all!  I recall one day an Occupational Therapist (OT) pulled me out of class and took photos of the correct lifting process if I should ever need help.  These photos would then be included in every teacher’s roll binder as a guide.  I still remember seeing these photos inside the binder for everyone to see.  I do not recall the process being explained to me or my even being asked if I was ok with this.  I was 9 years old!

I felt incredibly vulnerable and humiliated. I was still struggling to accept my condition. This did not help me in my acceptance journey at all.

A few years went by without the manual handling process being repeated until one day in Highschool. I had my friends sit me on a patch of grass so I could enjoy lunch with them. They had to help me onto the grass and help me stand back up again.

This was the first time in a long while that I felt ‘normal’ at school. Which in itself was a big deal.

The next day I was called in to see my OT (Occupational Therapist) who had come to the school for a visit. She informed me that my friends were no longer allowed to help me. If I fell over, I would have to wait until a teacher arrived. I explained that if I waited for a teacher, I would be on the ground longer than needed. This would cause immense humiliation. She agreed and told me that I had to teach my peers on how to lift me.

So a few days later, I taught my peers how to lift me safely.  I was lowered onto the floor in front of my classmates. My friends and I instructed everyone on how to lift me.  Our process was quick and took 5 seconds to lift me up.  

Safe to say I was embarrassed and humiliated and I felt so vulnerable in front of everyone. However, I thought that it was worth it since I could have my peers help me.  No more waiting on the ground for a teacher to come along.  It was looking promising…..we were all trying to come up with a solution to keep everyone safe as well as me being less humiliated.  They gave me the opportunity to explain to people how I wished to be assisted.

However, a couple of days later the OT returned and said ‘no sorry, they are no longer allowed to assist you at all due to WHS (Workplace Health and Safety)’. She advised me that if a student were injured while assisting me, their parents could sue the school.

I went home and cried because my ‘freedom’ to choose how and who helped me was taken out of my hands. I also felt let down and infuriated because I went and embarrassed myself for no reason. They failed to talk to me about how I felt about the process. They failed to come up with a plan that kept everyone safe and happy. I was again without a voice. I felt as though they did not care how I felt about the situation and I was made to feel insignificant.

I was anxious how I would be assisted the next time I fell over. I told my friends this decision. They were just as angry as I was. So, they told me ‘screw that, we will help you when they aren’t looking because it isn’t fair you having to sit and wait for them to do it’. I will be forever grateful that they saw my needs and my insecurities.

Eventually I did fall over when my friends were not around. Hey, it was bound to happen!  I tripped on the wheel of my scooter while going to my locker. What can I say, I am a complete clutz.   

My books went flying and I fortunately caught myself from smashing my face. That in itself is a miracle!  However, my peers were not allowed to help. I believe this is because my cohort was told not to help me anymore. Fortunately, a teacher saw and came rushing to assist me.   He checked if I was ok and asked if he could help me up.  Just those two little questions made me feel like he understood and ‘saw’ me.  I said yes please. Deep down I was afraid that I would be made to endure the complicated and embarrassing ‘correct’ technique. Instead, he helped me in two seconds by simply crossing his arms over mine and lifting me up.

He made sure I was ok and then left just as quickly and quietly as he had turned up. He saved me from more embarrassment, and I was completely grateful. I am still overcome with gratitude thinking about this experience and how respectful he was towards my feelings.

We all deserve the right to be included in conversations that directly impact us.

You may be asking what is the point of me telling you this?

The point is disabled people have a right to be included in discussions about their life just as much as anyone.

We have the right to choose what we are and are not comfortable with. We have the right to have our voices heard and respected.  

We feel completely violated and disrespected when we have ‘abled’ bodied people making decisions on our behalf.  They think it is in our best interests but most times it is in their best interests.

All we want is to be asked for our input when decisions are being made about our life. We just want to be included in discussions that directly affect us.

Trust me, being manhandled and made to sit on the ground for who knows how long because your friends cannot help you, is humiliating and degrading. Let alone add insult to injury with the decision being made by abled bodied people.

The same goes for the Wheelchair athletes at the US Open. Being told you cannot go to ‘work’ by abled bodied people, without even being included in the discussion is unjust. Again, they did not have a voice. They would have felt undervalued and disrespected.

The actions by the US Open highlights the fact that the need for equality continues.

At the end of the day, we should be included in all decisions, and have our voices heard regardless of the way we are born.   It is time to start calling out such discriminatory behaviour.  

Before I go..

Before I sign off for another week, I want to thank the US Open for recognising their error.  I want to thank them for finally listening and reinstating the wheelchair event.  I would like to thank Andy Murray and Roger Federer for standing with Dylan Alcott and the wheelchair athletes to get this approval over the line.  Thanks also to all of you who support our Para Athletes by tuning in to watch events on TV or attend Para Events.  

We have come such a long way in terms of inclusivity, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

I invite you all, to help those in your life who are experiencing times where their voices are not heard or respected, by asking them how they want to be helped or how they feel about a certain situation. Never just assume you are making the right call without consulting them first.   

Has this ever happened to you? Let me know!

I hope you are all doing well.

Peace and Love always,

Rhi. Xox

P.S If you liked this blog post please go to my social media pages by clinking the symbols below and sharing my post and page. Let us really get a community happening to create discussion around these topics!  If there are any topics you wish for me to touch on, please feel free to comment below.

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