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Schools Must Offer Disabled Students Equal Access to Sports

By January 29, 2013

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On Friday, January 25, 2013 the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights issued a press release that included the following information:

"Students with disabilities have the right, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, to an equal opportunity to participate in their schools' extracurricular activities. A 2010 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that many students with disabilities are not afforded an equal opportunity to participate in athletics, and therefore may not have equitable access to the health and social benefits of athletic participation.

"Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage, and this guidance will help schools ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or on the court," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

"Examples of the types of reasonable modifications that schools may be required to make to existing policies, practices, or procedures for students with intellectual, developmental, physical, or any other type of disability include:

  • The allowance of a visual cue alongside a starter pistol to allow a student with a hearing impairment who is fast enough to qualify for the track team the opportunity to compete.
  • The waiver of a rule requiring the "two-hand touch" finish in swim events so that a one-armed swimmer with the requisite ability can participate at swim meets.

"The guidance also notes that the law does not require that a student with a disability be allowed to participate in any selective or competitive program offered by a school district, so long as the selection or competition criteria are not discriminatory."

To learn more about the rights of disabled students who wish to play sports, visit the OCR website here: U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

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