Equal rights given to disabled athletes

by Alicia Chavez

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The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights issued a directive last Friday, which clarified the equal opportunities students with disabilities are guaranteed concerning extracurricular activities.

The new guidelines offer more details as to how schools should provide opportunities for students with disabilities in sports programs, including interscholastic, club and intramural sports—even creating the possibility of having their own leagues. Schools are encouraged to pursue other opportunities, such as wheelchair-based teams.

Student athletes with disabilities who want to join traditional teams for their schools can do so if officials make “reasonable modifications” to accommodate those disabilities, according to an article published by The Washington Post.

“This is a landmark moment for students with disabilities,” Chief Executive of Active Policy Solutions Terri Lakowski told The Washington Post. “This is a game changer. I firmly believe this will do for students with disabilities what Title IX has done for women and girls.”

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, specifically Section 504, deals with the rights of disabled participants in activities, which receive federal money. The new guidelines have been clarified by this law.

Before the directive was issued, students with disabilites were denied equal access to health and social benefits of playing school sports, according to a 2010 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Recently, 12 states have passed laws which require schools to include disabled students in sports and other extracurricular programs. The guidelines clarified last Friday reinforce these laws.

U.S. Department of Education stated no student with a disability is guaranteed a spot on an athletic team for which other students must try out. However, schools must give qualified students with disabilities an equal opportunity.

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