The United States Department of Education is issuing guidelines to schools across the nation that give disabled students equal access to extracurricular athletic activities.
Many students with disabilities do not get the same chance to participate in school sports as their peers, according to a 2010 report by the US Government Accountability Office. Debbie Horne is a spokeswoman for Special Olympics of Connecticut, and she said school sports have a positive impact on students with disabilities.
"It gives those with intellectual disabilities, and their peers without disabilities, a chance to really give people of all abilities the chance to play sports together and have the same opportunities to excel and show what they're capable of," she said.
Under the DOE guidelines, schools need to make reasonable modifications that allow students with disabilities the opportunity to participate. For example, a young track athlete with a hearing impairment can receive a visual cue to go along with a starter pistol. Horne said these policies can have a positive impact on students with disabilities.
"They benefit [students] by making real, true friendships that really influence their life, and it opens them up to different opportunities."
Renee Snyder is Vice President of Development and Public Awareness for Special Olympics New York. She said the next step is for schools and organizations is to work on implementing the guidelines.
"There's still a lot of unknowns [with enforcing the policies], but as Special Olympics New York we look forward to assist as a solution in order to expand sports to those with intellectual disabilities in the school setting," Snyder said.
In a press release, Special Olympics Unified Sports compared the Department of Education's new rules to the Fitness and Athletics Equity for Students with Disabilities Law in Maryland. The legislation, passed in 2008, requires schools in the state to give disabled students an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular athletics.