The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance detailing the obligation schools have to ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in school athletics.
Offering students the chance to participate in sports does not mean making fundamental changes to an event or accepting every student with a disability that shows interest, the guidance released last week notes. However, schools should make reasonable modifications.
The guidance offered some examples, such as allowing a visual cue alongside a starter pistol so that a student with a hearing impairment who is fast enough to qualify for the track team can compete. Another reasonable modification could be waiving a rule requiring a “two-hand touch” finish in swim events so that a one-armed swimmer can participate in races.
The department also said that schools may be required to provide accommodations to students outside of normal school hours. For example, if a young student with diabetes is provided health assistance with blood-sugar monitoring and insulin injections during the school day, he or she should also receive that assistance in order to participate in extracurricular sports after school.
Many students with disabilities won’t need any modifications, said Seth M. Galanter, the department’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights. But schools should avoid stereotypes and generalizations when it comes to evaluating whether a student can participate in a sport, he said.
“One student may not be able to play a certain type of sport, but a different student with the same disability may be able to play that sport and thrive,” Mr. Galanter said in a press briefing.
The department said the guidance is in response to a 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office on students with disabilities and sports participation. The GAO noted that at the schools its researchers visited, students with disabilities participated in sports, but at a lower rate than their nondisabled peers. The report says that schools were seeking guidance on the issue.
A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2013 edition of Education Week as Guidance Issued on Athletes With Disabilities