|Photo Credit: Ed Wolff, Seven Hills, Ohio
By Shane Monaghan
In an effort to garner more information on ways to better incorporate students with disabilities into high school athletic programs, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) assembled a task force to share experiences and best practices for inclusion.
Along with representatives from the NFHS and member state associations, delegates from the Special Olympics Indiana, the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs (AAASP), and the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) were also in attendance.
Currently, NFHS rules books state that “rules should be interpreted and applied so as to make reasonable accommodations for athletes, coaches and officials with disabilities.” In January, the Office for Civil Rights released a “Dear Colleague” letter regarding students with disabilities in extracurricular activity. The letter recommends that the United States Department of Education “clarify and communicate schools’ responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 regarding the provision of extracurricular athletics.” In response to the “Dear Colleague” letter, the task force discussed three possibilities for continued inclusion.
First, the integration of students with disabilities into existing traditional sports, where students with disabilities participate with and against able-bodied students or in a separate event. Another option, adapted sports, adds sport program offerings specifically for students with disabilities. Finally, Unified Sports programs add sport program offerings for students with intellectual disabilities, who are partnered on the same team with students without disabilities.
With initial steps in place, the NFHS and NIAAA will continue to work together to begin additional outreach to AAASP, Special Olympics and others to advance further inclusion of students with disabilities within education-based athletics and activities.
According to the 2012-13 NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey, a total of 8,747 student-athletes participated in adapted sports across the country, an increase of 3,958 participants from the 2011-12 survey period. Of that total, bowling, softball and soccer were the most popular adapted sports with 1,538, 1,179 and 1,394 participants, respectively.