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BREAKING NEWS: New Guidance Will Enhance Opportunities for Students with Disabilities ~ Impact Compared to Title IX
January 25, 2013
A historic and significant milestone for our nations’ school children with disabilities has been reached with the guidance issued today by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The guidelines clarify schools’ responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide athletic opportunities for students with disabilities. The National Council of Youth Sports (NCYS) commends the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for this guidance, as it will have far reaching positive effects on the lives of children with disabilities and our communities.
The 2013 Dear Colleague Letter requires a holistic approach by schools seeking to comply with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and ensures that schools look broadly and proactively to include students with disabilities in athletic programs in order to satisfy the school’s civil rights obligations to provide equal educational opportunities. The policies apply to all levels of education, including both interscholastic and intercollegiate athletic opportunities.
The benefits of providing all students opportunities for exercise and sports participation go beyond justice and individual opportunity. “Inclusion in athletics is how children learn from each other, build social skills and optimize their growth and development. 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,” said James Rimmer, Ph.D., who co-chairs the Inclusive Fitness Coalition and directs the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability. “This should be part of a national strategy to lower obesity rates, which are disproportionately higher among youth with disabilities compared to their non-disabled peers.”
Sally Johnson, Executive Director of the National Council of Youth Sports says, "This guidance opens the door for the vast expansion of opportunities for students with disabilities to participate in sports and physical activity programs. We applaud this legislation and will assist in being a resource clearing the myths and misconceptions while educating our members on how to integrate inclusion into their programs.”
GAO Study Called for Guidance
The guidance followed a 2010 study from the Government Accountability Office. GAO found that students with disabilities receive fewer opportunities for physical activity and sports participation than students without disabilities. To closed the gap, the GAO called on the Department of Education to provide resources to assist states and schools in serving students with disabilities in physical activity settings. The GAO report also called for clarification of schools’ responsibilities be provided regarding athletic opportunities for students under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and George Miller (D-CA) had called for the GOA study.
Advocates Invoke Title IX
“OCR’s guidance is a landmark moment for individuals with disabilities, as it sends a loud message to educational institutions that students with disabilities must be provided opportunities for physical activity and sports equal to those afforded to students without disabilities,” said Terri Lakowski, policy chair of the Inclusive Fitness Coalition and nationally recognized sports policy advocate. Lakowski, who has been a champion of equal physical activity and sports opportunities for women and girls under Title IX as well as students with disabilities for over ten years, added, “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.”
Researchers with Healthy People 2011 indicated that since activity levels in adulthood are usually lower than during childhood, sport and physical activity patterns established during childhood form the foundation for lifelong physical activity and subsequent health and contribute to an overall quality of life.
Studies considered by OCR in issuing their guidance also establish that children with physical disabilities have greater activity barriers. They are often not encouraged to lead active lives and in fact this failure tends to lead to sedentary lives with greater health problems that may be avoidable.
Parents whose children take part in these programs have reported that it has been noting short of a life changing experience for their child.
The other top benefits identified by parents whose children participate include:
~ The opportunity to play sports that the kids would otherwise never have.
~ Noted reductions over previous years in secondary health complications resulting from sedentary habits.
~ The ability to work hard, participate in a group, set goals, & excel in sports.
~ Increased motivation to get good grades, improvement in academics.
~ Active engagement and friendship with other students, mentors, & coaches.
About the National Council of Youth Sports
The NCYS leads the amateur youth sport industry in promoting and enhancing the value of participation through advocacy and education. Founded in 1979, the National Council of Youth Sports (NCYS) membership represents more than 200 organizations/corporations serving 60,000,000 boys and girls registered in organized youth sports programs. The NCYS is well-known for advocacy in promoting healthy lifestyles and safe environments for stronger neighborhood and communities. The NCYS is committed to being the united voice for amateur youth sports and advancing the youth sports experience in America. For more information call 772-781-1452 or visit www.ncys.org.
Sally S. Johnson, CSA, IOM
National Council of Youth Sports
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