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Department of Education Releases Guidance

on Equal Opportunities for Students with Disabilities in Sports


The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released guidance regarding its Section 504 regulations that clarifies the existing legal obligations of schools to provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate alongside their peers in extracurricular athletics and clubs in elementary and secondary schools. According to the Department of Education’s (ED) Section 504 regulations, qualified students who have an intellectual, developmental, physical or any other type of disability cannot be excluded from trying out and playing on a team.

The new guidance builds on a resource document issued by the agency in August 2011 that provides information on improving opportunities for children and youth with disabilities in physical education and athletics. The updated document provides an overview of Section 504, as well as specific examples of some of the issues educators may encounter with students with disabilities interested in participating in extracurricular sports, such as overcoming stereotypes, ensuring equal opportunity and offering separate or different athletic choices.

While federal civil rights laws require schools to provide equal opportunities, they are not required to change the essential rules of a game or provide an unfair competitive advantage to students with disabilities. However, schools must provide reasonable modifications (e.g., using a laser instead of a starter pistol to start a race so a runner who is deaf can compete) to ensure that students with disabilities have the same opportunities to participate as other students.

Individuals who believe they have been subjected to discrimination may file a complaint with OCR. To find contact information for the OCR regional office serving your area, visit, or call 1-800-421-3481 (TDD 1-877-521-2172). To learn more about children with disabilities and adaptive sports, read the recent post on Disability.Blog by Dr. Darla Clayton, Founder of Strong as Steel Adaptive Sports.

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