Saturday, February 2, 2013

Schools' Have an Obligation to Provide Equal Opportunity to Students with Disabilities to Participate in Athletics

Sinergia consumer enjoys playing baseball during our summer picnic
Students with disabilities have the right, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, to an equal opportunity to participate in their schools' extracurricular activities. But 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.

The U S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights issued a guidance letter clarifying school districts' existing legal obligations to provide equal access to extracurricular athletic activities to students with disabilities.

The guidance letter provides 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. Examples of such modifications 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.
"Participation in extracurricular athletics can be a critical part of a student's overall educational experience, said Seth Galanter, acting assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). "Schools must ensure equal access to that rewarding experience for students with disabilities." To learn more about OCR click here.

Additional reading:

Press Release: U.S. Department of Education Clarifies Schools' Obligation to Provide Equal Opportunity to Students with Disabilities to Participate in Extracurricular Athletics

Blog: We Must Provide Equal Opportunity in Sports to Students with Disabilities Posted on January 25, 2013 by Arne Duncan 

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