Red Eye tournament doesn’t acknowledge its own ableism

Red Eye, arguably one of Recreation Services’ most popular events, is coming up on March 18-19. Red Eye is an overnight sports tournament where teams move quickly from game to game. Some of the most anticipated games in Red Eye are wheelchair basketball and sledge hockey.

Red Eye attracts primarily able-bodied participants, according to organizers.

“In the three Red Eyes I’ve overseen, we actually haven’t had any people with disabilities sign up,” said Alberto Bustamante, Recreation Services assistant intramural sports coordinator. Bustamante said individuals with disabilities don’t take part in the planning the event, either.

Is this ableist? Or is it okay for able-bodied people to use wheelchairs for fun?

“Wheelchair basketball should be for physically disabled people who need wheelchairs,” said Ophelia Brown, a disability advocate best known for a viral article she wrote in response to Kylie Jenner’s infamous wheelchair photoshoot.

“People (like me) need them to get around. To get to the bathroom, to get to school or work, to get to the shops, to lead a ‘normal’ life,” she said.

Josh Taylor, power wheelchair soccer player and former U of A student, disagrees.

“At least there’s awareness getting out,” he said. “I can’t imagine any of them walk away thinking it’s easy. I know if it was powerchair soccer, I’d like it if people had a chance to experience what I do for fun as a sport.”

Bustamante’s thought process is along the same lines as Josh.

“It eliminates the barrier between able-bodied and not able-bodied athletes,” he said. However, Bustamante said disability awareness is not the focus of Red Eye.

“The aim is to promote different programming … and have a variety of sporting events,” he said.

Bustamante’s reasoning is in line with the contentious concept of reverse integration. Reverse integration involves able-bodied people playing adaptive sports alongside people with disabilities, and is heavily debated in the world of parasports. Nowhere on Red Eye’s website is reverse integration referenced, nor is disability culture mentioned. Bustamante hopes able-bodied athletes who understand what it’s like to use a wheelchair can “eliminate some barriers.”  Yet wheelchairs are used in Red Eye as a novelty for primarily able-bodied participants. Additionally, reverse integration cannot occur without involving athletes with disabilities.

Red Eye is not an awareness event. It is intended to be a recreational activity for students. Regardless, the use of wheelchairs by able bodied people for fun is a form of cultural appropriation.

Disability culture is a minority culture and it must be granted the same rights and opportunity to educate as any other, particularly in university environments. Intentionally or not, Red Eye is executing an ableist event under the guise of a fun recreational activity, with a reference to awareness taken for granted. Educational institutions should be held to a higher standard for eliminating discrimination in their programming.

To improve, Red Eye should be planned with the input and involvement of wheelchair users. Reverse integration can be positive and create a more accessible playing field, but that simply cannot be accomplished by a group of exclusively able-bodied people. The stories, experiences, voices and expertise of people with physical disabilities must be heard in order to end ableism on our campus.


  1. So are nearly all sports “abelist”? These at least permit less abled people to participate and show their chops.

  2. A white Canadian invented basketball. Guess African-Americans should be banned from playing basketball. They are appropriating white Canadian culture. #FML

  3. “Abelism”. How are these sissies ever going to function in the real world? Does my taxes go to anyone who actually goes to class, or do they just help support the habitually offended limp wrists? Luckily in real america, nobody cares about this crap.

  4. It was interesting to see the differing opinions on the use of wheelchair basketball in the Red-Eye tournament by wheel-chair users, so I enjoyed that part of the article. However, I’m having some trouble digesting Red-eye being labeled an “ableist event”. It is a fun and challenging recreational event that some people enjoy doing year to year, and yes, there are some people who will be unable to participate and I’m sure there are some who would like to take part but cannot due to a disability of some kind. There will always be events, activities, even foods that some people will be able to enjoy and some won’t…so does that mean we must boycott everything or question its validity because it does not fit everyone’s abilities. I think that is unrealistic. Red-eye as a whole is an event that is designed to push you to your physical limits and people’s limits range drastically, disability or not. Would I love to see some effort in making Red-eye more inclusive? Sure! But do I think the event is discriminatory? No. I’m all for the student body feeling empowered and included on the university campus but I also feel we tend to sensationalize things on campus way too much. Under this article’s line of reasoning, are golden bear/panda sports teams also “ableist” and discriminatory?? Hmmmm. With everything on campus, in the world, people are going to be left out. That’s life. Kinda sucks, but that’s life.

    1. Hey! Maybe this was unclear, but I don’t think it’s ableist to have events that aren’t accessible to everyone. Like you said, not everything can be 100% accessible, although that would be awesome.

      The issue I take with the event is the use of wheelchairs as a novelty or ‘toy’, and especially that no person who uses one for its intended purpose is consulted. Able-bodied people trying out wheelchair sports can be positive, but not if we don’t involve the disability community or give them say in the event.


      1. Thanks for responding!
        I didn’t think that you were saying that, but the article provoked some questions of my own and I was just kind of throwing that out there as a broad and general thought/question about activities/recreation in general.

        I do agree with the whole issue surrounding the novelty use of the wheelchair in Red-eye. It certainly is something that should be considered, and I’m glad you looked into it and that you gave wheel-chair users a voice in the matter. Hopefully they will have more say in the event in upcoming years! 🙂 I have participated in Red-eye in the past and had never thought of that issue before and it was really nice to hear those thoughts.

      2. But it’s not a ‘novelty’ or ‘toy’. It’s a tool enabling a type of sport to be played.

        Are you actually saying that people that can’t walk ‘own wheelchairs’ and to use a wheelchair in an entertaining or humorous manner, somehow denigrates them?

        That is completely batshit insane. Fucking hell…

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