Students with Disabilities Conference
University of Pittsburgh
October 1, 2013
Advocating for Student Athletes with Disabilities
A movement is growing across the country as high school and college students with physical disabilities challenge the status quo that sports are for able-bodied individuals only.
Having a physical disability no longer means sitting on the sidelines. Although adaptive sports have been around for decades, it is only in the last several years that people are taking notice to that fact that ‘adaptive’ does not mean ‘less than.’ In other words, an adaptive sport can be just as competitive as its non-adaptive counterpart. I am advocating for the inclusion of adaptive sports into the landscape of athletic programs at the university and college level.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) offers tremendous financial and academic support to students attending college and participating in NCAA recognized sports.
The purpose of the NCAA is to provide a governing body for all collegiate sports programs.
With each sport organized into three divisional categories, there are currently over 450,000 student athletes in the NCAA as of September 2012. These students participate in well-known sports such as Football, Basketball, Baseball, and Hockey as well as in less-known sports such as bowling, fencing, and rifle. Students who play in NCAA-level sports have invested countless hours in training for their sport and have earned the right to play in college and receive the athletic and academic support necessary to succeed (Hendrickson).
College-bound student athletes with disabilities do not have the same benefits entering college as the student athlete without disabilities. Many of these student athletes with disabilities have been training just as long and as hard as their non-disabled peers. Many have competed at
just as high or higher levels of competition including in International Paralympic Committee
(IPC) sanctioned sports. Yet, student athletes with disabilities that compete at a high level are not afforded recognition or the same benefits as able-bodied student athletes by many colleges and universities because adaptive sports are not sponsored by the NCAA (Hendrickson). Tutors are not provided to the traveling student athlete with disabilities. Consideration on missed classes is not explicitly given to the student athlete with disabilities. Both of these are provided to the able-bodied student athlete. This adds a tremendous amount of stress to the athlete training and competing in adaptive sports. It is very difficult to find a healthy and productive balance with academics. In addition to support, the NCAA student athlete has the opportunity to receive scholarships directly (Division I and II) or indirectly (Division III) related to their athletic participation. Unless a student with a disability is capable of participating in an NCAA sanctioned sport, the support both academic and financial is virtually non-existent (About the
There are currently two dozen universities and colleges in the United States that recognize disabled sports in their athletic programs (About the NCAA). In the Winter 2013 issue of the NCAA Champions magazine, these schools were hailed for being on the forefront of inclusion but we are still far from seeing any institution offer the same benefits to students with disabilities as those without. The consensus is that these benefits will not be available until the
NCAA recognizes a category of adaptive sports in their organization (Hendrickson).
I am a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh and have a physical disability as well as a slight learning disability. My physical disability, Spina Bifida, has resulted in paralysis below the knees. I am able to walk only with the use of leg braces and crutches. I use a wheelchair for long distances such as getting around Pitt’s campus. I also have Arnold Chiari Malformation