Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Friday that disabled students must be given a fair opportunity to participate on school sports teams, or be given their own leagues. The Education Department said the measure is meant to ensure students with disabilities aren't excluded, and they do not intend to change traditional sports.
In terms of expanding access to school athletics, the new rule is similar to the Title IX law in 1972 that mandated schools to provide female athletes with the same opportunities as male athletes. The law led to a huge increase in female sports participation, but also caused some schools to cut back on programs for males in order to comply.
Just as Title IX opened the door for women in athletics, Duncan and the Education Department said providing access to sports programs will allow disabled students to take advantage of learning leadership, team work, and fitness:
Students with disabilities are no different—like their peers without disabilities, these students benefit from participating in sports. But unfortunately, we know that students with disabilities are all too often denied the chance to participate and with it, the respect that comes with inclusion. This is simply wrong. While it's the coach's job to pick the best team, students with disabilities must be judged based on their individual abilities, and not excluded because of generalizations, assumptions, prejudices, or stereotypes.
Current federal law requires that public schools provide free education to students with disabilities, and the new athletic provision adds the right to participate in intercollegiate, club, and intramural athletics.
Duncan emphasized the fact that schools don't need to change a sport's rules or guarantee disabled students a spot on a team, but "they do need to make reasonable modifications (such as using a laser instead of a starter pistol to start a race so a deaf runner can compete) to ensure that students with disabilities get the very same opportunity to play as everyone else."
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