By Ken Reed

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a Dear Colleague Letter today clarifying schools’ obligations to provide extracurricular athletics opportunities for students with disabilities under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The directive applies to K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities. The bottom line of the OCR action is that students with disabilities must be provided opportunities for physical activity and sports equal to those afforded to students without disabilities.

In a press release about the OCR’s action, issued by the Inclusive Fitness Coalition, an advocacy organization for disabled athletes, James Rimmer, Ph.D., director of the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability said, “The OCR guidance is a clear indication that athletics is an extremely important part of our educational system and that youth and young adults with disabilities must be afforded the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has called on the Department of Education to provide resources to assist states and schools in serving students with disabilities in physical activity settings.

“We applaud OCR for its leadership and action, which we hope will pave the way for students with disabilities in sports the same way that Title IX has done for women,” said Terri Lakowski, policy chair of the Inclusive Fitness Coalition.

It’s a landmark day for disabled athletes in the United States but now comes the hard part: enforcing implementation of this mandate. Everyone who cares about equal opportunity in sports must be diligent at the local and/or national level. This isn’t an impossible task. Models are out there.

“We are ready and eager to work with schools across the country and show them that integrating students with disabilities into school athletic programs is not only feasible, but will greatly enrich the overall athletic experience for all students,” said Beverly Vaughn, Executive Director of the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs.

A lot of work has been done.
A lot is still left to do.
Get involved where you can.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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