In January, the Obama administration mandated school districts to provide students with disabilities equal access to extracurricular sports. Schools aren’t required to significantly alter games but must make “reasonable modifications.” Failure to comply could impact federal funding.
Former Paralympian Linda Mastandrea is pleased with the decision. “It sends a strong message that sport and recreation for students with disabilities cannot be an afterthought … and that students with disabilities have the same right to play and compete as their nondisabled peers,” she says. A 2010 GAO report found students with disabilities participated in extracurricular athletics at a much lower rate than those without disabilities. Barriers to participation included lack of student outreach, priorities of school officials and the level of competitiveness among athletic teams.
Mastandrea wants to see the decision pave the way for increased Paralympic participation. “Students who previously might have been unable to participate will now get the chance to compete and gain the skills and abilities needed to travel that Paralympic path,” she says.