Including Students with Physical Disabilities in High School Track and Field
According to the Rehab Act of 1973, students with disabilities should have the same opportunity as students without disabilities to participate in interscholastic athletic programs. Students with disabilities receive the same benefits from sports participation as students without disabilities, yet have far fewer physical activity opportunities. This leads to obesity rates 40 percent higher for children with disabilities. Approximately 27 states have established adapted track and field models for students with a physical disability that are incorporated in the high school athletic program. However, there are still a lot of barriers to participation. Here are four topics all coaches and parents should know in order to include more students with physical disabilities in high school track and field.
1. Know your state’s model
First, you will need to contact your state’s high school athletic association to find out the registration process for a student with a disability and the adapted track and field model. It is important to know your state’s model because it will tell you what events are available for athletes with a disability. Each state offers different events and qualifying standards for state finals. For example, the Alabama High School Athletic Association offers the 100m, 200m, 400m, shotput, discus and javelin for both seated and para-ambulatory athletes while the Georgia High School Athletic Association offers the 200m, 800m and shotput for seated athletes and the 100m, 200m, 400m, shotput and discus for para-ambulatory athletes.
After you have become familiar with your state’s eligibility requirements and rules, you will need to learn the adapted track and field rules and modifications. An overview of these rules can be found in the Athletics for All Adapted Track and Field Guidelines.
3. Recruiting Athletes with Disabilities
When it comes to recruiting athletes for your team you may be thinking, “There are no students who use a wheelchair or a walker at my school.” While students who qualify for adapted track and field must have a permanent physical disability, this does not mean that the athlete must use a wheelchair or mobility device. Qualifying disabilities and impairments include but are not limited to spinal cord injuries, amputations (upper or lower limb), cerebral palsy, hypotonia, hip dysplasia, osteogenesis imperfecta, spastic paraplegia, dwarfism and visual impairments. Consider contacting the following professionals or organizations to recruit eligible students.
• 504 coordinators
• Adapted sports organizations in your community
• Current/former students
• PE teachers
• PTs, OTs, and doctors
Not all athletes with disabilities need specialized equipment to compete, but some may need running legs, racing chairs or field throwing chairs. These needs are determined by the athlete’s disability and function level. Equipment can be expensive, but to get started basic equipment can be used and adaptations made. Students who use a wheelchair can race in their everyday wheelchair or in a chair previously used by another athlete. Field chairs can be built with standard parts from a home improvement store. When the athlete is ready to take competition and training to the next level, grants are available to cover equipment costs. Information on these grants and organizations can be found in the resource section below.
Grants and Scholarships
• Challenged Athletes Foundation- www.challengedathletes.org/
• Disabled Sports USA - https://www.disabledsportsusa.org/
• Kelly Brush Foundation- www.kellybrushfoundation.org
Coaching & Athlete Education/Resources
• Team USA Resources - https://www.teamusa.org/us-paralympics/sport-development
• Find a Club Near You - www.teamusa.org/US-Paralympics/find-a-club
• General Resource Guide – www.athleticsforall.net/
• Lakeshore Foundation - www.lakeshore.org
• National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability - www.nchpad.org
• Adaptive Sports USA (Track & Field) - https://adaptivesportsusa.org/
• Blaze Sports America - https://blazesports.org/educationtraining/tools-and-resources/
• Disabled Sports USA - www.disabledsportsusa.org
• USA Track & Field - www.usatf.org/about/legal/policies/ADA.aspx
• Guide Athletics For All - www.athleticsforall.net