Office for Civil Rights’ Guidance Requires School Districts, Colleges, and Universities to Provide Students with Disabilities Equal Opportunity to Participate in Athletics

New guidance from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) clarifies that school districts, colleges, and universities must provide students with disabilities equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular athletics.  The guidance also offers guidelines on the steps educators must take to meet that requirement.   The guidance responds to a June 2010 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which found that “students with disabilities participated in athletics at varying rates, but at consistently lower rates than students with disabilities”.   The overall message of the OCR guidance is that educators must take steps to ensure that students with disabilities have equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular athletics, defined as “club, intramural, or interscholastic (e.g., freshman, junior varsity, varsity) athletics” and “intercollegiate, club, and intramural athletics”.  More specifically, under the guidance, educators must:

  • Avoid generalizations and stereotypes. 
  • Conduct individualized inquiry to determine whether modifications to the activity can be made without fundamentally altering the competition.  
  • In certain circumstances, provide separate opportunities for students with disabilities (e.g., wheelchair tennis or basketball) where a reasonable modification that does not fundamentally alter the competition is infeasible. 
 For more information about the guidance, see reports and articles from the National School Board Association, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and Education Week.

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