Children with disabilities are now moving towards a more level playing field in school sports. In a letter recently released to school districts nationwide, The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights stated that students with disabilities have the right to participate in their school’s extracurricular activities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

This policy states that students should be afforded equal opportunity to be a part of their school’s sports teams regardless of intellectual, developmental, physical or other types of disabilities. “Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage, and this guidance will help schools ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or on the court,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

While students with disabilities have a right to participate in school sports, the Education Department made clear that they might have to meet certain standards of skill or ability in order to join a team so long as the criteria are not discriminatory. In cases where reasonable accommodations would fundamentally alter the game or create an unfair advantage, federal officials said schools are obligated to create separate, but equally supported opportunities for kids with disabilities to participate. Examples could be a wheelchair basketball league or unified teams where students with and without disabilities compete together.

While there is still progress to be made in order to reach true equality, statistics show we are moving in the right direction. According to Livestrong, as of 2009, 48 percent of children with disabilities wanted to participate in sports but 38 percent of their parents reported that no such programs existed. Advocates for inclusion in school sports asset that this move could do for students with disabilities what Title IX did for women.

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