How Sports Help People with Disabilities

Expanding Title IX to include students with disabilities will stop the neglect of an entire group of athletes like Amy Wollmershause, Special Olympics champion.

Expanding Title IX to include students with disabilities will stop the neglect of an entire group of athletes like Amy Wollmershause, Special Olympics champion.

by Ginnie Graham -

In fifth grade, Amy Wollmershauser signed up for the noncompetitive girls softball league to learn about sports and to be part of a team.

She went to every practice, worked hard to improve her skills at home and showed as much athletic promise as the other players.

But she rode the bench in every game, allowed just a couple of at bats before a silent crowd.

“It broke our hearts and devastated all of us,” said her mother, Peggy. “A family learns where their child’s place is in the world, too.”

Wollmershauser, who has an intellectual disability, never complained – but she never signed up again.

“The message was loud and clear to her – I’m not an athlete and I can’t succeed here,” she said. “She didn’t even attempt to go out again.”

Then, the family discovered Special Olympics, and Amy’s life changed. She is one of its most successful athletes.

She is in South Korea as one of two Oklahomans competing in the Special Olympics World Games.

At age 37, she has won more than 70 medals, including three gold medals in international competitions. Her speedwalking times rival those of competitors who don’t have a disability.

Her mother can’t help but wonder what Amy might have accomplished if Title IX, the 1972 law that required equal opportunities for female student-athletes had included disabled students.

That changed last week when the U.S. Department of Education announced that Title IX was being expanded to include students who have disabilities.

“I cannot imagine a better direction for this to go in,” Wollmershauser said. “It will promote the interaction of intellectually disabled and regular students in way that is even more common than it is now.

“It can do nothing but advance the understanding between both groups and the gifts each one has to bring. It gives them a right, and a family a right, to hope for more than being shuttled to the back.”

Reasonable modifications: The directive states that access to interscholastic, intramural and intercollegiate athletics is a right of students with disabilities and requires schools to make “reasonable modifications” for disabled students.

This doesn’t guarantee a disabled student a spot on the team or set different performance standards for disabled students.

The directive offers two examples: A visual cue as well as the starter pistol could be used to accommodate student with a hearing impairment; and waiving the required “two-hand touch” finish in swim meets would allow a one-armed swimmer to compete.

“We believe in the value of participation for all our students, especially disabled students,” said Ed Sheakley, executive director of the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association. “We want them to be part of extracurricular activities. If we can make reasonable accommodations to allow them to participate, that should be done.”

A 2010 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that disabled students were not getting the equal opportunities to participate in sports that had been granted in the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and bolstered by the 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Read more at Disabled to get sporting chance.

[Via Tulsa World]

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