Access to Sports for Children with Disabilities

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

1395007 baseball in grassThe Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U. S. Dept. of Education has issued a guidance opening opportunities for children with disabilities to participate in sports. The “Dear Colleague” letter, issued January 25, 2013, explains that equality of access under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to extracurricular sports as well as to educational programming. Some of OCR’s major points are:

  • Under Section 504, a school district that offers sports must afford qualified students with disabilities an equal opportunity for participation.
  • Under Section 504, children with disabilities should receive reasonable modifications, as well as aids, supports and services to ensure their integration into sporting activities, including competitive activities, unless the school district can show that doing so would be a “fundamental alteration” to its program. For example,
    • In track and field, visual cues, in addition to a starting gun, would be an accommodation that would not fundamentally alter the track program.
    • A child with diabetes who requires assistance with glucose testing and insulin during the school day should also receive assistance to participate in after school gymnastics.
    • But adding a fifth base in baseball would not be required because it would fundamentally alter the baseball program.
  • For children entitled to IEPs, the “fundamental alteration” defense is not applicable if participation in extracurricular activities is necessary to provide FAPE to the student. In such cases, per regulations at 34 CFR §300.320(a)(f)(ii), modifications, supports and services should be provided on the IEP.
  • The provision of unnecessarily separate or different sports activities to children with disabilities is discriminatory, but when the interests and abilities of some students cannot be fully and effectively met by the existing sports program, the school district should create additional opportunities. An example of this would be a wheelchair basketball team.

- Posted by Attorney Judith Saltzman

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