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Florida Disability and Athletics Groups Praise Federal Rule On Equal Access To School Sports

The U.S. Department of Education has ruled public schools must include students with disabilities in sports programs or provide equal alternatives.

The ruling is similar to the Department's Title IX rule, which expanded equal opportunities for women in public school athletics. Disability advocates like Disability Rights Florida, call USDOE's ruling a step in the right direction for children with disabilities.

"It represents equal access to the educational system and the benefits that come with participating in sports, similar to what they did 40 years ago with the ordering that women be treated equally in education systems with respect to sports. That's why we support it," said Bob Whitney, Executive Director of Disability Rights Florida.

Some states already offer sports programs for disabled students. Tommy Storms, with the American Association of adaptive sports programs, said those programs have been a success.

"We're seeing our kids are performing better academically. They're more confident, there are less issues with depression, feeling like an outsider at school," she said.

Meanwhile, the Florida High School Athletics Association has issued its own response to the U.S. Department of Education's ruling.

“Florida has been ahead of the curve for several years, and we fully embrace the steps suggested by the federal government. In the past few years we have added some adaptive sports to the athletic activities offered at member schools, and we look forward to working with schools, districts and – most importantly – student-athletes with disabilities and their parents – to provide every reasonable opportunity for them to experience the joy and benefits of athletic competition," said Rodger Dearing, Executive Director of the FHSAA in a statement.

"Wherever and whenever possible, we want every student to have the opportunity to be a part of the team, because providing access to athletic programs for students with disabilities certainly adds value to their overall educational experience. If this new guidance helps just one more student become a student-athlete, it will be worth the effort."

Federal Guidelines posted at the U.S. Department of Education's website provides examples of the types of changes schools may be required to make.  Those examples include allowing a visual cue alongside a starter pistol so a student with a hearing impairment can compete in track, or waiving rules requiring  a “two-hand touch” finish in swim events to accommodate a one-armed swimmer.

Ronald J. Ebben has 50 years of experience in broadcast news. Ron’s first assignment was covering the Kennedy-Nixon 1960 election in Peoria, Ill. His first News Director position was in 1963 at a Fort Worth, Texas, radio station. He carried Kennedy speech in downtown Fort Worth before JFK was assassinated later that morning in Dallas. And he was in the newsroom to see those fateful words come over United Press International wire: the “president had been shot.” Ron served as News Director for Tampa Bay stations from 1968 to 1990 and hosted the “Live with the Governor” statewide call-in show with Gov. Bob Martinez. In 1990, he became News Director of a statewide network with 26 affiliates. From 1991 to 2000 Ron was News Director at WTNT and Program Director for WNLS. Since 2000 Ron has served as :Morning Edition: host for WFSU News.