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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > World Disabled Ski Champ

The irrepressible human spirit rose to new heights on the steep slopes of Colorado above U.S. highway 40 during the World Disabled Ski Championships last month. There skiers from all over the world, including various arms and leg amputees; paralyzed and blind skiers and athletics with such disorders as multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, compete in a number of competition classes based on their disability. Just looking at the pictures of these resolute, valiant athletes is enough to upend the most entrenched couch potatoes. The magazine covering this event is full of the seriousness which these joyful participants take their challenge. The sophistication of the prosthetic equipment is attested to by the numerous advertisements for these devices. A firm called Enabling Technologies promotes mono-skis, velcro cuff straps and supergrips.

Another company is selling a “light, flexible prosthetic foot. The National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park hosts a whole program of winter recreational opportunities, alpine skiing cross country skiing for “over 40 disabilities.”

A few days ago in Florida comes this news report: “A 74-year-old legally blind woman made holes-in-one on the same hole on consecutive days this week. Her [golfing] achievement is believed to he the first occasion that the feat has been accomplished by a person with serious vision impairment.” Pat Brown, president of the United States blind Golfers Association, said he “feels 100 percent sure” no other golfer with a severe visual impairment has ever accomplished the same feat.

What all this and other activity by the disabled means is that the disabled have done this for themselves. They have diminished the debilitating stereotypes and moved into the mainstream economy by battling for physical access to buildings, streets and occupations.

The other day at one of Washington, D.C.’s busiest intersections, a man in a wheelchair negotiated the crossing with routine written on his motions. Onlookers and cab drivers did not even bat an eye. Twenty years ago this journey would have been a street stopper.

Not too many years ago, the disabled were in the grip of a society that told them in a hundred ways — “out of sight, out of mind.” Disabled children did not go to school, they stayed at home.

Now with the civil rights of the disabled advancing, the struggle goes on as witnessed last month in a demonstration in front of Congress by hundreds of disabled citizens demanding action on a stalled bill.

Modern technology is also producing a rare net benefit. From telecommunications to prosthetics to adazzling array of facilitators, disabled youngsters are growing up in a world where “you can be whatever you want to e” is more than just a mirage. Many of these devices are outrageously priced; so, well, there is a special consumer movement underway.

On another front, comes a rare display of corporate ethics under duress. The occidental Petroleum Company and the Mobay corporation have refused to sell Thionyl chloride to the U.S. Army for the manufacture of poison gas. ‘Remember George Bush’s superstrong stand against the chemical arms race during the Presidential campaign of 1988. Well, now the Bush Government is about to use the Defense Production Act to compel these companies to sell these chemicals to the Department of Defense.

President Bush has to use this compulsion to override Occidental Petroleum’s company policy which is “not to sell or distribute chemicals that contribute to the production of chemical weapons or illicit drugs.” So much for Presidential leadership against the proliferation of such methods of warfare.