Slow Change

Jan 18, 2016
Tagged with: Slow Change

As we celebrate the man who was instrumental in writing the Civil Rights Act, which was signed in 1964 to benefit all Americans, there is still one group of citizens who are waiting for this act to benefit them. These are the 56 million Americans with disabilities who are still waiting to participate in a mainstream society. However, because of the 64 act, steps have been made to address this issue.

Now, I know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990, to support the rights of all citizens with disabilities in regards to employment and access. However, the one act that always seems to be overlooked is the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. On January 24, 2013, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a Dear Colleague Letter clarifying school’s obligations under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to provide extracurricular athletic opportunities for students with disabilities. The release of the Dear Colleague letter is merely further guidance on what should already be happening for students with disabilities stemming from section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act states that “no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under” any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance.

Since this was written over 40 years ago, in January 2013, the Office of Civil Rights wrote a Dear Colleague which stated that now is the time that these federal funded facilities, schools, universities, etc. have in place programs for people with disabilities to participate in recreation and competitive sport. The Dear Colleague letter creates a clear roadmap for how schools can integrate students with disabilities into mainstream athletic programs and create adapted programs for students with disabilities.

About two years ago, an opportunity for student-athletes with disabilities has been established to create leagues and championships for various sport teams at the university level. An agreement has been establish with the NCAA and the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) that will provide more competitive sport opportunities for people with disabilities, veterans, people with eligibility and people without disabilities. I am talking about a major step towards inclusion in our society’s competitive landscape.

As a person with a disability, I had an opportunity to participate in recreational sport at a collegiate level. However, I did not get the opportunity to participate at a competitive level. Nonetheless, my participation at a collegiate level was beneficial in my growth as a young man. I felt connected to the University. I was very much part of the social climate and connected to the athletes. I was so connected that I made a career out of it as well as a competitive opportunity.

These competitive opportunities are filled with the hope of more students with disabilities participating, the more educational opportunities they will have and the more employment opportunities they can seek. With more people with disabilities in the work force the more ideas of inclusion and universal design can become a reality. This step of including people without disabilities may wrinkle features for people with disabilities, but remember there is a bigger picture: The opportunity to have a student/athlete experience at a collegiate level. Slowly this dream is becoming a new reality.


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Author: Bob Lujano