U.S. Dept. of Education: Expand Access to Sports for Students with Disabilities

Kids Day at the 2012 National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Photo by Mike Lynaugh
On January 25, 2013, the United States Department of Education announced that schools must include students with disabilities in their sports programs or provide those students with their own equivalent leagues. 

“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,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said as he announced the new directive.

This groundbreaking directive will help to create an environment of new athletic opportunities for disabled students, just as the Title IX expansion did for girls and women four decades ago in 1972.

Many federal laws, such as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, already require state funded schools to provide free public education to all students with disabilities. Additionally, previous directives from the Education Department’s civil rights division have made it clear that access to athletics in schools and colleges is a right. This new directive now extends that right to students with disabilities.

The directive is not intended to alter any of the sports dramatically or guarantee students with disabilities a certain number of spots on competitive teams. Rather, the Department insists that schools may not exclude students based on their disabilities if they can keep up with their classmates or if a reasonable accommodation can be made to incorporate these students into sports teams.

Paralyzed Veterans of America has been a long time advocate of expanding access to sports for people with disabilities. Paralyzed Veterans Sports and Recreation Program provides a wide array of opportunities for veterans with disabilities. Additionally, Paralyzed Veterans co-presents with VA the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, the largest annual wheelchair-sporting event in the world.

“This decision is yet another advance in delivering full access to the power of sports to all people with disabilities,” said Paralyzed Veterans National President Bill Lawson.

Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America's Adaptive Sports Programs 

Sam Gubitz is an undergraduate studying political science at The George Washington University.

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