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Should Partially Blind Triathletes Wear Blackout Glasses?

Some triathlons are forcing all legally blind participants to wear blackout goggles to ensure that all competitors equally impaired.

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Some triathlons are forcing all legally blind participants to wear blackout goggles to ensure that all competitors equally impaired.

Aaron Scheidies, 30, is a six-time triathlon world champion and seven-time national winner. He is also legally blind, with only 20% of his vision intact.

On Wednesday, the athlete filed a lawsuit against three triathlon groups contesting a rule that requires all legally blind and visually impaired runners to wear “blackout glasses” during competition — forcing them to run in complete darkness — in order to level the playing field between partially blind and completely blind competitors.

Scheidies filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan saying the rule violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). He argues that requiring a visually impaired person to compete completely sightless puts the athlete and those around him at risk.

“It is medically dangerous and ethically wrong,” says Scheidies, who is also a physical therapist in the Seattle area. ”If you have any degree of blindness, you live every day trying to succeed with the vision you have. To succeed and be an independent person is not about how much vision you have. It is how well you accommodate or adapt to the vision you have.”