Short Take: Accommodating Becca Meyers

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.

No one would have blamed her if she never won a medal, never competed. After all, bind and deaf present some severe limits, right? Instead, Meyer swam, competed and won.

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 But the United States Olympic & Paralympics Committee has refused to permit her this accommodation, and so she has withdrawn from the paralympics.

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.

26 thoughts on “Short Take: Accommodating Becca Meyers

  1. Lori Tennimon

    I wouldn’t use the word villain, but Tokyo failed. They knew what was involved with the Paralympics including the fact that some of the athletes have very specific accommodation needs which may include additional people. If the situation is so dire (and it may well be) that she, or anyone else with this need, cannot be allowed this reasonable accommodation when there will be a sea of people entering the city then Tokyo should have announced a postponement of the games weeks ago. I would also suggest that her PCA is absolutely “operational essential staff”.

    1. SHG Post author

      No matter what decision Tokyo made, it would have been “unfair” to some. Had they canceled the Paralympics, what of those athletes who don’t need PCAs and were denied the opportunity to compete? Should they lose their shot at the gold because some other athletes need PCAs? They trained for years for their chance, too.

      There were no good options and no “right” choices. Yet, decisions had to be made. When you step back from the particulars of one very sad situation, you realize that there aren’t always easy answers.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Spoken like a prosecutor pursuing a felony wrap for a some poor sap who was in the wrong place at the wrong time….

      2. delurking

        The CNN article on this says the personal care assistant who was not allowed to accompany her was her mother, that her mother did not help in the pool, and implies that she competed in Rio without her mother.

        “Meyers said that at the 2016 Games in Rio, she “fell apart” without her mom or a personal care assistant there. ”

        ‘Her mother, Maria Meyers, said that Becca needs a one-on-one assistant to help her navigate the airport, dining halls and other venues.

        “I’m there to just whisper in her ear, you know, ‘it’s on your left, it’s on your right, just to guide her and take care of her.’ I don’t have anything to do with the pool. That’s all her and the coaches. But they really have to have staff that knows how to orient and take care of these kids,” Maria Meyers said.’

        So, it appears she won three golds at the last Paralympics, without her mother.

        1. SHG Post author

          Other articles state that her PCA was the person who helps her navigate the pool. If her PCA is her mother to hold her hand in the airport, then there’s no issue here.

          1. delurking

            Yay, professional press! I’m so glad they are around to tell us the important facts.

            Having swum myself, I’m impressed she can go 50 m in a pool without bashing her hand into the lane guide, which hurts like hell. I can’t imagine knowing where the wall is without seeing it, so I’m inclined to believe that the PCA is, as you say, the person who taps her to let her know when to start the turn.

            If it were 10 years ago, I would not doubt that was the case. But in this day and age, when it gets you plaudits and publicity to publicly complain about the slightest psychic pain (and coupled with the quote from her mom), I am sad to say I will be unsurprised if she is just whining.

            1. SHG Post author

              A better comment. Why couldn’t you do this in the first place rather than be one of those “actually” assholes?

            2. delurking

              I had no intention to offend in the first post, it was just meant as a pointer to confounding information.

              Facts matter. We have been misled by the press’s use of the word “blind”. There is a youtube video of her 2016 Rio 100m butterfly win. She walks out to her starting block unaided. She swims unaided. She looks up at the scoreboard and sees her finish place, then celebrates.

            3. SHG Post author

              This is the first I’ve heard anyone suggest that she’s not blind, as in “can’t see” sufficiently to be a competitive swimmer. If true, this would be highly salient. Assuming, arguendo, that her sight is impaired (perhaps “legally blind” as they say at the DMV?), but she is capable of sufficient sight to do as you suggest, then we have a different story.

            4. Ross

              Meyers disease causes progressive blindness. She very well could have had some sight in Rio but not now. She has a seeing eye dog to help her.

        2. Sgt. Schutlz

          You might want to seriously consider, before posting a comment, whether you’re contributing anything or just being an asshole, both in tone and content. If it helps, you’ve rarely contributed anything here.

      3. Christopher OLoughlin

        Japan, delayed and against public sentiment allowed the games to be performed in Japan. Becca Myers, decorated para-olympian, is a women and needs a trusted PCA. Discrimination against a women in sexist Japan is understandable. Denying Becca Meyers’s trusted PCA ties one hand behind her back and she withdrew. Rules in sport honor the principle of fairness and equity. Here today in Japan there is no fairness or equity for para-olympians. Application of a rule dictating all must use the same PCA is a universal application of one PCA and appears to adhere to a principle of equity. Everyone will use the same PCA therefore no advantage to one over another; must be fair. The individuals in a group are no less entitled to individual justice because they compete in a group. The unique bond of PCA to uniquely disabled para-olympian deserves justice too. Both the role of PCA and Para-Olympian are being discriminated against by the nation of Japan for no reason other than no one will stand up to a bully. I have come to expect better from SHG

        1. SHG Post author

          Becca Myers, decorated para-olympian, is a women and needs a trusted PCA.

          That’s not a reason. That’s religion. Save that “expected better” crap for someone who gives a shit.

          1. Miles

            You stopped reading after the second sentence. It got worse. Much worse.

            What’s with this sudden influx of moonies?

            1. SHG Post author

              It’s impressive how they can string incoherent gibberish together as if it actually means anything. But that’s religion for you.

            1. SHG Post author

              Did the word “paralympics” not appear enough times in the post to make that clear? While there’s a difference, it’s unnecessary to diminish the value of the paralympics.

      4. David

        The 1956 Melbourne games didn’t have the equestrian events in Australia because of quarantine rules re horses. The equestrian events were held in Stockholm.

        So, over 50 years ago no problem accommodating horses and their riders by using a different venue, with a yea’s deferral a reasonable group (i.e. not the current IOC and other involved organizations) might have come up with some other country venue alternative for paralympics to accommodate human beings, if accommodation were going to be such an issue.

  2. Jake

    I appreciate the post but disagree with your final analysis. It is not an exaggeration to point out that the Paralympics are literally the Olympics of accommodating people with disabilities so they can compete. Accommodation on such a level requires total solidarity. No matter how heartbreaking the outcome for everyone else, the USOPC should have told Tokyo she gets the PCA or we’re out. And meant it. That a deaf and blind athlete would require a trusted companion to navigate the world is an unquestionably reasonable accommodation.

  3. Rxc

    I have no idea whatsoever about how to determine whether an accommodation that is provided to a paralympian is “fair”.

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