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Children With Disabilities Gain Legal Right to Play School Sports

Posted on Feb 15, 2013

A 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office found that disabled students do not get the same opportunities to participate in sports as other children. But, this will change soon. The U.S. Department of Education says that children with disabilities now have the same legal right as other children to compete on their school or college's extracurricular sports teams.

The groundbreaking new rules, which give disabled elementary, high school, and college students equal opportunity to compete in school sports, were announced on Friday, January 25. By law, schools must now give disabled and non-disabled students the same opportunities to participate in extracurricular sports and to try out for varsity sports teams.

The Department of Education said schools must provide any reasonable accommodations needed as long as the accommodations do not give the disabled students an unfair advantage, change how the sport is played, or compromise safety. Examples of reasonable accommodations include allowing visual cues for deaf students who participate in track, and allowing diabetic students regular breaks to test blood sugar.

In addition, disabled students should be given equal opportunity to compete, rather than practice-only slots.

If disabled students cannot join existing extracurricular programs, schools may be required to create comparable athletic programs for disabled students. The rules apply to all extracurricular school sports, including clubs and varsity teams.

Disability advocates are comparing last month’s ruling to Title IX, the 1972 amendment requiring gender equity in both education and sports programs at schools that receive federal funds. Now more children will be able to enjoy the many benefits of school sports.

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John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney of Keefe Disability Law