Dear Mr. Denison

Thank you for re-opening the door and sharing your comments on my blog post. I believe this took a great deal of courage.

I am sure my post came as a shock to you. In many ways it was to me as well. I did not enjoy writing or posting it. The letter highlights yet another area where people with disabilities face systemic discrimination; there are so many as the world is built for the able-bodied. I knew some would understand what I was trying to communicate, while others would not and would bully me – and they have. I also knew that after posting the letter there would be absolutely no chance of me ever being nominated into IMSHOF, but it is important to me that people understand the barriers to inclusion so they can dismantle them.

Diversity and inclusion are hard work, but they are needed if we are to live in a world free from discrimination. Moving forward will require a paradigm shift that will disrupt IMSHOFs norms and culture. People will resist as change can be uncomfortable. I ask you to consider however, how uncomfortable, and even painful it is for people living on the outside of inclusion.

Inclusion is giving equal access and opportunities and getting rid of discrimination and intolerance. It is helpful to those with disabilities in the swim community that you are sharing their stories, it is however a long way from inclusion. Inclusion will require shift in your policies.

As an example, the policy that requires people to swim at least 10 known international epic swims. Each of these swims requires travel and comes at a cost; at a minimum $100,000. This is systemic bias in favour of those who have financial means. Twenty-five percent of people with disabilities are living in poverty with the vast majority being women. Although IMSHOF may not have intended to discriminate against them, it is the end result of your policy.

There are numerous others who are impacted. Consider that only 2% of the world’s population travelled internationally in 2018. From this, we can assume that close to 98% of the world does not have equal access to the opportunity to travel and there for be recognized for their achievements. The policy also does not consider the risks or impact of traveling on the individual. Have you ever tried to travel with a wheelchair? It would be more equitable to recognize swimmers around the world as opposed to swimming around the world.

Another example of systemic bias is the use of known ratification bodies. Beyond the obvious, that there is no official list or set criteria for these bodies, leaving it subject to your personal bias, many of them may not be equipped to work with persons with disabilities.

You have also identified swimming in varied temperatures as a requirement. Heat is a know trigger for 70% of people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Are you suggesting that those who have MS would have to put themselves at risk of an attack if they wanted to be considered?

To be inclusive, it is important you recognize the person’s circumstance and meet them where they are, not ask them to be like you. Craig Dietz is an incredible open-water swimmer without limbs and one of my personal heroes. He is known for his 10km marathon swim in Lake Memphremagog amongst other swims. Would you require him to swim 10 epic swims around the world to be considered for induction?

There are many more examples that I and others can provide. It will be a difficult conversation and I respectfully request that you do not shut it down before it has an opportunity to begin. Inclusion is vital to the health of our communities. Beyond the need for fairness, it is needed if we are to live in strong, healthy communities. One study suggested that chronic social exclusion is one of the causes of school shootings that occurred in the US. We should all be doing all we can to work to include rather than exclude, in my humble opinion.

The modern hero in this is not the man who celebrates himself but rather the man who is willing to give up a seat at the table to include others. I am here should you wish to move forward with the conversation.


Written in response to Ned Denison’s response to Dear able-bodied men.

1 thought on “Dear Mr. Denison

  1. Made me tear up as I understand the energy and trauma that occurs just in writing this post Susan, (as a person with a disability)….we should be past needing to advocate and educate so intensly …then we can partake in life in the healthier way we can in our circumstances

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