Douglas Spiwak, director of athletics and fitness for Harper College, leads efforts there to integrate students with disabilities in athletic activities.
did that even before the ED issued its "Dear Colleague Letter" reminding institutions of the need to do so.
"It comes down to having a good attitude and being willing to work with your access and disability services department," he
Collaboration with DS office is key
coaches are used to working with the institution's disability services specialists to figure out how to make participation possible when students with disabilities express an interest in playing sports.
"That way, you're not making any decisions alone," Spiwak
"That's important because the disability services people are the content experts."
Accommodations may be as simple as making sign language interpreters available during practices and games.
Sometimes, if a student has played the sport in the past, he
may be able to provide ideas for accommodations that have worked before.
The key is not to focus on students' disabilities, but rather their athletic abilities, Spiwak
If students can demonstrate the skills needed to participate in a sport, they can play, even if they need reasonable accommodations to demonstrate that skill.
Some teams don't hold tryouts, and participants are chosen by invitation.
But if a student with a disability approaches a coach about getting on one of those teams, the coach may ask the student about his
skill level and where he
played before to see if the student belongs on the team.
For teams that hold tryouts, Spiwak
encourages coaches to document students' abilities.
For example, the soccer coach keeps sheets on every person trying out for the team.
Students' demonstrated skill levels, standardized scores for running tests, and more subjective observations about their abilities are noted on those sheets.
Coaches meet with individual athletes after tryouts to explain why they did or didn't make it onto the team, using those sheets for reference.
requires coaches who hold tryouts to post information about them well in advance.
In those cases, Spiwak
believes the key to being inclusive is finding out what the student really wants.
If it's just a team experience, you may be able to steer him to an intercollegiate wheelchair basketball team or some other intramural sport where being in a wheelchair doesn't substantially alter the game.
And if the student expresses an interest in starting a wheelchair basketball team on campus, don't dismiss the idea.
Find out if you have adequate facilities, whether there's enough interest to create a team, and whether the idea is sustainable.
"I don't think we can just say, 'No, we don't offer it.' Show students you're making the effort," Spiwak
For more information, you may contact Douglas Spiwak
Sports departments across the country have been abuzz with concerns since the Department of Education issued a "Dear Colleague Letter" stating that under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, colleges and universities must provide opportunities to students with disabilities to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.
Although some may view the ED's mandate as unreasonable, other colleges have been providing those opportunities for years.
The key is collaboration, organization, and a willingness to give students with disabilities a chance in sports and extracurricular programs, said Douglas Spiwak, Harper College's director of athletics and fitness.