You cannot help but be inspired by Becca Meyers. She didn’t ask for her challenges. She did nothing to deserve them. But she didn’t let them define or limit her, and instead won three gold medals at the Rio Paralympics in swimming. Big deal? It is when you’re blind and deaf.
The 26-year-old suffers from Usher syndrome, which caused her to be blind. She has also been deaf since birth.
Usher syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that causes deafness “due to an impaired ability of the inner ear and auditory nerves to transmit sensory (sound) input to the brain (sensorineual hearing loss) accompanied by retinitis pigmentosa, a disorder that affects the retina and causes progressive loss of vision,” according to the National Organization for Rare Diseases.
In order to compete, Meyers uses a “personal care assistant” with whom she’s trained, and who has trained with her, to tap her so she knows where the wall is and can make the turn. This PCA is integral to her ability to compete, and understandably so. In the scheme of accommodations for her blindness, this is about as critical as it gets. But the United States Olympic & Paralympics Committee has refused to permit her this accommodation, and so she has withdrawn from the paralympics.
Heartbroken to share that I’m withdrawing from the Tokyo Paralympic Games. The USOPC has repeatedly denied my reasonable and essential accommodation because of my disability, leaving me no choice. Full statement below: pic.twitter.com/p9tKsbPip2
— Becca Meyers (@becca_meyers) July 20, 2021
The assertion that one PCA can serve her and 33 other paralympics swimmers seems fairly ridiculous, both because they haven’t trained together and one person can’t be in more than one place at the same time. If Meyers is to swim, she needs her own. And her complaint about the failure of the USOPC to allow her what is clearly a reasonable accommodation makes her dream untenable.
The reason behind the refusal, however, isn’t that they’re mean or unaccommodating, but constrained by the host city’s rules.
[T]he crackdown on who can attend the Games because of the coronavirus pandemic had a ripple effect on Meyers. There are no foreign spectators allowed and a limit on who the countries can bring to the Games.
“There remain no exceptions to late additions to our delegation list other than the athletes and essential operational personnel per the organizing committee and the government of Japan,” Rick Adams, the chief of sport performance and national governing body services for the USOPC, told Meyers’ father Mark in an email on June 29, according to the Post.
“As I said to you both on the phone and over email, I fully empathize with your concerns and wish we could fine [sic] a way as we have in the past.”
The decision is about Meyers, and yet it’s not. Limits have been imposed on who will be permitted to participate to limit the number of people involved and keep the corona risks down. There is no issue that allowing Meyers her trusted PCA is some sort of “cheating” or unreasonable in any way. The issue is how the PSOPC can allow Meyers her person and refuse the same reasonable accommodation to any other athlete. The issue is that they are constrained by Japan’s limits that apply to all athletes, all nations, and have to work within those limits. whether you agree with them or not.
“We are dealing with unprecedented restrictions around what is possible on the ground in Tokyo. As it’s been widely reported, [the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games], at the direction of the government of Japan, is not permitting any personnel other than operational essential staff with roles related to the overall execution of the games, into the country,” the USOPC told The Post.
Seeing this as discrimination on the basis of disability is misguided, even if the result is heartbreaking for Meyers, whom you can’t help but adore. It’s fair to argue that this flies in the face of the very concept of the Paralympics, and it does, but this would not have been an issue at all but for COVID.
There is no doubt that Becca Meyers needs and deserves the accommodation of her trusted PCA, and at the same time, the limits on staff to prevent the further spread of COVID is an understandable safety precaution, even though it means that her trusted PCA won’t be accommodated and she won’t be able to compete. There is no villain here, but it is terribly sad that such an inspirational challenged swimmer won’t have her shot at Paralympic gold.