Sunday, 11 August 2019

To see or not to see

To see or not to see, that is the question in vision impaired shooting. Whether it is fairer to require all to wear opaque glasses or not.

World Shooting ParaSport made provision in the international rules to allow them to designate competitions requiring all shooters to wear opaque glasses. Whilst no competition this year has been designated as such, there definitely is talk about enforcing it sometime soon. The thought is that it is obvious when watching vision impaired shooting to identify who has some useful sight and who has not. There is a thought that those with some useful sight are gaining an advantage through their sight and that it can make a mockery of the sport. The solution being proposed is opaque glasses to try and equalise the sport.

As you may imagine there are some who really oppose this idea. I am mixed in my views on this. My biggest objection is more from a disability ethics point of view, I feel it is wrong to make someone more disabled than they normally are. In no other part of life do we ever consider disabling someone further, in fact we normally try and encourage people to make the most of what they have. So why is sport different? I fully appreciate the need for creating an equal playing field, but why take such a negative approach, surely a more positive approach by creating adaptations and allowances for those with less sight would be better. As an example of a positive approach I would use blind cricket as an example where totally blind batsmen must have at least two bounces of the ball and blind fielders may make a catch even when the ball has bounced once. Admittedly creating positive adaptations and allowances is more difficult, they may be more complicated for people to understand and may not satisfy some that equality has been achieved.

So if we put the ethics to one side and accept that opaque glasses are a workable proposal, will they help create an equal playing field and give the correct image of the sport?

One significant objection is that those with partial sight are less adapted to life without sight and so the opaque glasses would disproportionally impact upon them. They claim that those who have no sight will be better adapted due to living with no sight 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Whilst those with partial sight may train with the opaque glasses, this training time will never compare with being in the condition permanently. Whilst I accept this argument to an extent, it cannot be ignored that the totally blind person may have other disadvantages such as limited training time due to not being able to train independently, greater difficulty in learning certain sport concepts due to not being able to visually watch a demonstration and also not being able to use some visual training techniques such as position training with a mirror. Also for those who have been blind since birth, they may never have developed certain skills such as balance when they were younger as they never had the visual queues to help perfect the skill.

There is also an informational inequality within the sport. By this I mean those who can see the electronic target display are likely to have far more information than a shooter with no sight. The phrase "A picture is worth a thousand words" comes to mind. As good as my assistant is, they cannot give me anywhere near the same information about the group shape, size, position, etc in a timely manner as a sighted person can by taking a quick look at the display. Also in a final where time is limited, it is much quicker to visually look at the time remaining, instead I would need to signal to my assistant I want to know how much time remains, the assistant needs to check the time and then communicate this back to me. If taking a positive solution approach, then one possible option would be to consider giving those with limited sight additional time to allow for the time it takes for the assistant to provide the detailed information. How practical that would be in competition I am not sure. The last thing to say about information communication is that those who cannot see the display fully rely on their assistant and must have full trust that the assistant has got it correct. If you can also see the information, then you can form your own opinion and decide whether to ignore the assistant or not.

So in conclusion, from a practical point of view I can see how using opaque glasses may equalise the sport. Whilst they may disadvantage those with some sight, we must remember that those who are totally blind may face additional disadvantages as well. When considered as a whole, based on reasoned argument I think it may actually result in something fairly equal, but it may be good if research could actually be done to confirm this. However the ethical aspect does bother me, making people more disabled does not feel like something which should be acceptable in this day and age, we really should be taking a more positive approach.

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