Equal Access on the Playing Field for Students with Disabilities

Jan 28, 2013

The federal Department of Education is requiring schools nationwide to give students with disabilities a fair chance at playing on traditional sports teams with their peers. The order is in response to a 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office, which found students with disabilities were playing extracurricular activities much less than students without disabilities.

The Chief Operating Officer of the Center for Disability Rights, Chris Hilderbrant says the order is long over due.

"It's still exciting and it think definitely what's being announced is going beyond what's been required so far and it's really improving opportunities for students with disabilities," he said.

The Education Department released guidelines to schools on their existing legal obligations to students with disabilities regarding sports. Sherry Johnson is the assistant executive director of the Monroe County School Board Association. She says local disabled students already have the equal opportunities under current laws - such as the Civil Rights Act.

"It's a clarification to the schools, a reminder to the schools that they need to looking at their policies and procedures related to these particular laws and making sure they are complying with them," Johnson said.

Schools will have to make "reasonable modifications" to accommodate disabled students who want to play afterschool athletics or on a sports team. For example, providing a deaf track athlete with visual cues at the same time as the starter pistol.