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US tennis star Venus Williams (1stR) and her sister Serena Williams (2ndR) participate on November 3, 2012 in a two-hour tennis clinic with disabled children in wheelchairs at the Arthur Ashe Academy in Soweto.
The U.S. Department of Education clarified today that K-12 schools cannot exclude students with disabilities from after-school athletics and clubs. Officials explained that they are not looking to change sports teams, but “reasonable modifications” need to be implemented for disabled students who can compete with their classmates. For example, if a deaf runner wanted to compete in track and field, schools could use a visual cue instead of a starter pistol.
Some schools have already made modifications. For a blind wrestler in Chicago, his competitors must maintain physical contact with him during the match. In Ohio, a track student competes in a racing wheelchair but cannot have other students run alongside him. Other alternatives would be setting up parallel adaptive sports programs for students with disabilities. The Department of Education said that these legal obligations are a matter of equal opportunity civil rights. When Title IX instructed schools to treat female athletics equally with male athletics, many considered it a victory for women’s rights. There was increased female participation in sports, but also consequently many schools cut budgets for men’s teams.
Is this initiative parallel to Title IX for women? Will more students with disabilities participate in sports? How will this affect school budgets? Also, how can modifications be made for different types of mental and physical disabilities? Is this fair to other competitors?
Terri Lakowski, CEO of Active Policy Solutions, which provides government relations and advocacy support to clients; specializing in sports, health, wellness, youth development, and civil rights policy and an expert on youth sports policy in the United States
Bob Gardner, Executive Director, National Federation of High School Associations
Bev Vaughn, Cofounder and Executive Director of the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs, a non-profit organization with the mission to develop and support a standardized structure for school-based athletic competition to improve the well-being of students with physical disabilities