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New Guidelines Will Enhance Opportunities for Students with Disabilities to Particpate in School Sports -- Impact Compared to Title IX

The AAASP/GHSA State title trophies for adapted sports teams, comprised of students with physical disabilities, are proudly displayed in the Atlanta Public Schools' Administrative offices. Prior to their arrival here, trophies are in residence at the school of each player during the year of award. APS has been a member of AAASP since 1996.

ATLANTA, GA - January 24, 2013: A historic and significant milestone for our nations' school children with disabilities has been reached with the guidance issued today by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The guidelines clarify  schools'  responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act  to provide  athletic opportunities for students with disabilities. The  American  Association of Adapted Sports Programs (AAASP) commends the  U.S.  Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights for this  guidance, as  it will have far reaching positive effects on the lives of  children with  disabilities and our communities.
"Each person and group who has worked  within  this sports movement can take heart that their work has not gone unnoticed and that with this new guidance we can further advance our  vital work of making sure all kids who want to take part in school   sports will have an opportunity to do so," said Beverly Vaughn, AAASP Cofounder and Executive Director.

Ralph Swearngin,  Executive Director of the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) and  board member of the National Federation of State High Schools said that  he applauds the focus OCR is giving to providing athletic opportunities for disabled students. Swearingin commended AAASP for its  leadership, expert guidance and  pioneering efforts in this area of  sport development for students with  disabilities and stated,  "the partnership GHSA has had with  AAASP for over ten years now has  been exceptional and we hope to see  other state associations join AAASP  as we move forward together for the  positive educational benefit of  sports participation for all students  with disabilities."

Through an alliance struck between the two groups in 2001, GHSA has relied on AAASP to assist with the integration of track and field events for those with disabilities. The AAASP/GHSA Varsity Wheelchair Basketball State Championship game has been telecast across the state for 8 years by Georgia Public Broadcasting  alongside the boys and girls title games in basketball.

GAO study called for guidance
The guidance followed a 2010 study from  the  Government Accountability Office. GAO found that students with   disabilities receive fewer opportunities for physical activity and   sports participation than students without disabilities. The GAO called   on the Department of Education to provide resources to assist states  and  schools in addressing this disparity of services and also asked  that  clarification of schools' responsibilities be provided regarding   athletic opportunities for students under Section 504 of the   Rehabilitation Act. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Catolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and George Miller (D-CA) had called for   the GOA study.

Advocates invoke Title IX
The Inclusive Fitness Coalition, comprised of  over 200 groups around the nation, including AAASP, has  called OCR's  guidance a landmark moment in opening the doors to  students with  disabilities in much the same way as Title IX has done  for women. "It  sends a loud message to educational institutions that  students with  disabilities must be provided opportunities for physical  activity and  sports equal to those afforded to students without  disabilities,"  according to AAASP Board member, Terri Lakowski, CEO of Active Policy Solutions in Washington, DC and former policy director for  the Women's  Sports Foundation. Lakowski has championed efforts for equal  physical  activity and sports opportunities for women, girls and  students with  disabilities for over ten years.

Researchers with Healthy People 2011  indicated  that since activity levels in adulthood are usually lower  than during  childhood, sport and physical activity patterns established during  childhood form the foundation for lifelong physical activity  and  subsequent health and contribute to an overall quality of life.

Studies considered by OCR in issuing  their  guidance also establish that children with physical disabilities  have  greater activity barriers. They are often not encouraged to lead  active  lives and in fact this failure tends to lead to sedentary lives with  greater health problems that may be avoidable.

Commenting on OCR's announcement, Tommie  Storms,  AAASP's Cofounder and Director of Operations noted that, "From  its  founding nearly 16 years ago, when our model was integrated into  10  school districts in less than three months time. AAASP has utilized   every tool at its disposal to develop and implement policy, systems,   adapted rules and training opportunities that have led to lasting   sustainability and reasonable costs."

Vaughn added, "We would also be remise not to acknowledge those who comprise our member schools and high school associations and nearly two decades of input, review and recognition for our collective efforts by many of the nations' best minds in this area of sport and physical development. This news could not come at a better time for these administrators, teachers, coaches and coordinators who've dedicated themselves to the success of these students."

Parents  whose children take part in  these  programs have reported that it has been noting short of a life  changing  experience for their child.

The other top benefits identified by parents whose children participate include:
  • The opportunity to play sports that the kids would otherwise never have
  • Noted reductions over previous  years in  secondary health complications resulting from sedentary  habits.
  • The ability to work hard, participate in a group, set goals, & excel in sports
  • Increased motivation to get good grades, improvement in academics
  • Active engagement and friendship with other students, mentors, & coaches 
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