Schools Opening Sports to Disabled

Few questions have perplexed scholars and philosophers more than what constitutes a “reasonable” accommodation. Today the Department of Education released guidelines applying to school athletics, including club, intramural, or interscholastic (eg., Freshman, junior varsity, varsity) athletics at all levels. The rules require the schools to create “reasonable modifications” or create parallel athletic programs that have comparable standing as mainstream programs to accommodate those with disabilities. An example given was to provide a visual starting cue to a deaf track runner. The extent of these accommodations, however, is a bit fuzzy.

The outer limits set by the rules would require schools to make changes “unless the school district can show that doing so would be a fundamental alteration to its program.” The example given is requiring an extra base in baseball. In these cases, schools will have to create parallel athletic programs (wheelchair basketball for example). Yet the determination of a fundamental alteration is crucial to determining whether a separate or modified program needs to be implemented. The rule says that “the provision of unnecessarily separate or different services is discriminatory.”

Making accommodations that allow disabled students to participate in physical activities is extremely important. Disabled individuals typically have a more difficult time being active, with 23% of people with disabilities being active for at least thirty minutes three or more times per week. Individuals with disabilities have a 29% chance to be sedentary vs. 10% for those without disabilities. With over 50 million people in the U.S. having documented disabilities (1 out of 6), this is a far reaching concern that must be addressed.

The question that schools will be asking is what exactly they must do, and how much do they need to spend, in order to be in compliance. The question we need to be asking is what is best for the students.

Additional Resources

Department of Education, The assistant Secretary Extracurricular Athletics:

Department of Education, Creating Equal Opportunities for Children and Youth With Disabilities to Participate in Physical Education and Extracurricular Athletics:

The Department of Health and Human Services, Your Rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act:

U.S. Department of Labor, Section 504, Rehabilitation Act of 1973:

DeKalb County School District, Adapted Sports Program:

Boston University International Law Journal, Athletes with Disabilities in School Sports:


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