The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has put together a task force to create and provide resources for schools and state associations that want to assist and encourage more students with disabilities to participate in athletics.
The Task Force for Inclusion of Students with Disabilities, made up of representatives from several state associations, the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, Special Olympics Indiana, the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs and USA Paralympics, met several times in the past year to discuss ways to grow the participation opportunities for students with disabilities.
“We need to come up with a strategy to get students with disabilities involved,” said Becky Oakes, NFHS Director of Sports. “We have to change the culture with students and parents so that they aren’t on the sidelines.”
The task force has been working on resource material, which is expected to be available to schools, state associations, students with disabilities and their parents early this year on the NFHS website. These resources will include model policies for schools and state associations, training sessions for school districts, individual assessment worksheets, request forms and a glossary of terms. The goal is to streamline the process of allowing a student with a disability to participate in an activity – from the time of request through participation.
The group is primarily focusing on three ways in which students with disabilities can participate: inclusion into a traditional program, adapted sports and Unified Sports.
Inclusion into a traditional program allows students with disabilities the opportunity to participate at the same events as able-bodied students, such as wheelchair races at a track and field meet.
Students with disabilities playing each other in a sport that has been modified to accommodate their disabilities are playing an adapted sport. These sports sometimes require all students to sit in a wheelchair to participate, whether they normally need it or not, so that everyone is on the same level.
Unified Sports feature students with disabilities playing alongside students without disabilities on the same team. These sports are offered in conjunction with Special Olympics.
The task force conducted a survey last summer and found that 38 states either already provide athletic opportunities for students with disabilities or are considering adding them in the near future.
When the resources are finalized, the task force will shift its focus to changing attitudes that cause students with disabilities – and their parents – to think they can’t participate.
“This is a challenge and a growth opportunity as we move forward with the NFHS,” said John Register, United States Olympic Committee associate director of community and military programs, “We have to say ‘it’s OK to play.’”
Juli Doshan is the graphic arts technician/editorial assistant in the NFHS Publications and Communications Department