By Tom Degun

US disability sportFebruary 9 - The US Education Department have told schools across America that they must do more to encourage disability sport, stressing that there are legal obligations to provide equal access to extracurricular athletic activities for disabled pupils.

The United States were highly criticised for a lack of commitment to disability sport during the London 2012 Paralympics when host broadcaster NBC decided not to show any live coverage of the Games, instead opting to show just a short highlights programme following the conclusion of the event.

The United States finished sixth on the medal table at the Paralympics with 98 medals, 31 of which were gold.

But despite the success at elite level, US Education Department says there must be more commitment to grassroots disability sports in schools.

"Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage, and this guidance will help schools ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or on the court," said US Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The US Education Department have highlighted that students with disabilities in America have the right, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, to an equal opportunity to participate in their schools' extracurricular activities.

A 2010 report by the US Government Accountability Office found that many students with disabilities are not afforded an equal opportunity to participate in athletics, and therefore may not have equitable access to the health and social benefits of athletic participation.

As part of the push to help disability school sport in schools, the US Education Department's Office for Civil Rights have released a letter that provides examples of the types of reasonable modifications that schools may be required to make to existing policies, practices, or procedures for students with intellectual, developmental, physical, or any other type of disability.

TatyanaMcfadden 2The United States were criticised for showing no live television coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics, where American wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden was one of the big stars

Examples of such modifications include the allowance of a visual cue alongside a starter pistol to allow a student with a hearing impairment who is fast enough to qualify for the track team the opportunity to compete.

Another example is the waiver of a rule requiring the "two-hand touch" finish in swim events so that a one-armed swimmer with the requisite ability can participate at swim meets.

"Participation in extracurricular athletics can be a critical part of a student's overall educational experience," said acting assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Seth Galanter.

"Schools must ensure equal access to that rewarding experience for students with disabilities."

To see the letter from US Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, click here.

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