Throughout middle and high school, I volunteered at Friendship Circle of Los Angeles every single Sunday for three hours. Friendship Circle of Los Angeles is an organization that provides many opportunities for children with special needs to grow, mature, and play like able-bodied children. Throughout my volunteer work, I spent every single Sunday with the same young girls and boys and was able to watch them develop. All the children at this organization have disabilities, ranging from autism, physical impairments, muscular dystrophy, facial disfigurements, sensory impairments, other long-term impairments, etc. It is emotionally challenging and heartbreaking that these children suffer from these disabilities. However, Friendship Circle is a wonderful organization that attempts to provide happiness for each child.
Each Sunday, all of the volunteers are paired up with one buddy for the whole day and the two of them together participate in arts and crafts, sports, and song. Therefore, all of the volunteers without disabilities are playing amongst the buddies who have disabilities. On Sundays, these buddies feel as if they have a ‘normal’ life amongst their volunteers.
However, it is sometimes hard to get the children to participate in these activities, especially sports. For some reason, most of the buddies that I have been paired up with have refused to play sports. When it comes time on the schedule to play sports, some of the buddies throw a temper tantrum just to get out of having to participate although the sports activities are not intense. For example, some of the activities that we play are duck duck goose, follow the leader, obstacle courses, tag, sharks and minos, etc. Friendship Circle purposely chooses activities with minimal physical effort in the hopes of including all of the children with disabilities because there are many children who are in wheelchairs and get very upset when there are activities in which they are unable to participate.
While reading Mika LaVaque-Manty’s “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities,” I couldn’t help but to think about all of the buddies that I worked with throughout my time at Friendship Circle. There are numerous similarities that I have observed between these children with disabilities and this chapter. As LaVaque-Manty says in “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities, “In sports, there are reasonably clear measures of excellence, of ranking participants, of measuring relative success” (143). Thus, sports are an accurate way to measure the level of injustice that people with disabilities face in society. At Friendship Circle, sports is the only activity in which the children who want to participate get competitive. One week, I was partnered with a boy named Ari. I will never forget what he said to me after he lost in tag to one of the able-bodied volunteers: “It’s not fair because I have to use a wheelchair and he doesn’t and that’s why I got out. I hate this.” Ari proceeded to sob uncontrollably up until the moment his mother picked him up. I wanted to cry as well. Ari and the other buddies at Friendship Circle have such a hard life and it is incredibly hard to witness firsthand.
Although Ari and the rest of the buddies at Friendship Circle with disabilities are not professional athletes, they still play sports every Sunday. The 1999 lawsuit filed against the New York City Marathon for discrimination against wheelchair users is a perfect comparison. These wheelchair users were upset because they were stopped by police officers in order to let the able-bodied humans pass, as well as the lack of a “competitive wheelchair division” and “prizes” for these wheelchair contestants (LaVaque-Manty, 134). These wheelchair users remind me of Ari. Maybe Ari would have felt like he was playing in a fairer game if there was a separate round for just the buddies, even if he did not win. Maybe Friendship Circle should change their policy and not allow the volunteers to participate. Maybe Friendship Circle should offer prizes to the buddies who win in sports so there is more of an incentive for them to participate.
“Meaningful competition is thus determined by social conventions, which in turn reflect social values” (150). How can Friendship Circle help Ari to be happy? The current social convention is to allow the able-bodied volunteers to participate in sports. However, if Ari is very hurt and upset by these rules that are in place, most of the wheelchair buddies probably feel the same way as Ari. Thus, Friendship Circle should consider changing their social values in order to ensure the happiness of some of its buddies.
“Competition in sports is about excellence, and the political arguments therefore concern the nature and meaning of excellence” (150). Perhaps the buddies who did not want to participate in sports felt that there was no point because they knew they could not achieve excellence against the able-bodied humans. Society has a concept of excellence and in turn, values certain activities as excellent, like winning. Most everybody on the face of the earth has a deeply rooted desire to win – just like Ari and the wheelchair users. Changing the rules of sports at Friendship Circle could help the special needs buddies like Ari grow and mature, so why not? Friendship Circle should change this policy and only allow the children with disabilities to compete against other children with disabilities.