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Letter to the editor: Promote inclusion to foster the potential of athletes with disabilities

Posted by Justin Rice  January 29, 2013 05:15 PM

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The following is a letter to the editor from Dr. Cheri Blauwet -- a clinical fellow at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, two-time winner of the Boston Marathon's wheelchair division, seven-time Paralympic medalist and member of the International Paralympic Committee Medical Commission -- and Anjali Forber-Pratt, two-time Paralympic Medalist, member, US Paralympic track and field team and Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award Recipient from the American Association of Persons with Disabilities, in response to a blog post from last Friday titled, "Boston schools ready for federal mandate to include disabled athletes."

To the Editor:

We read with great interest “Boston schools ready for federal mandate to include disabled athletes” published in response to the US Department of Education Guidance regarding the inclusion of athletes with disabilities into mainstream sporting activities at the K-12 level. Given our experiences as Paralympic athletes representing the United States on the world’s stage, as well as professionals engaged in the growth of sport opportunity for youth, we felt compelled to describe the importance of this federal guidance as it relates to ensuring the basic rights of youth with disabilities in this country. Additionally, there were misconceptions perpetuated in the aforementioned article that take away from the true impact of the Guidance issued last Friday, Jan. 25.

Growing up in rural Iowa (Dr. Blauwet) and Natick (Dr. Forber-Pratt), we have both experienced the importance of introducing youth with disabilities to the world of sports from a young age. For Dr. Blauwet, a small spark of talent was discovered on her high school track. Dr. Forber-Pratt’s interest was piqued as a childhood spectator in Natick watching the wheelchair racers in the Boston Marathon. In both instances, world-class athletic careers were launched, including the opportunity to travel and show others the potential we held within ourselves.

Only a few years earlier, our peers, just as talented, however growing up in a time prior to the development of the disability rights movement, would have been denied this opportunity simply on the basis of a disability such as being visually impaired, hearing impaired, an amputee, or – like us – wheelchair users.

In the United States, parents want their kids to play sports for what seem to be obvious reasons. Sports taught us humility, self-confidence, teamwork, and innumerable other skills that transferred into successes in our day-to-day lives. Youth with disabilities cannot be denied this opportunity. At a time when our society is plagued with child obesity and the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle, we cannot turn our backs on enabling opportunities for physical fitness and exercise for all – regardless of whether or not a specific activity may require “reasonable accommodation.” For people with disabilities, this Guidance is our Title IX, and we will work fervently to see its implementation.

Athletes who utilize wheelchairs are not “bound” by their disabilities. On the contrary, our disabilities have empowered us to become strong and, in many cases, influential leaders. Secondly, the issues regarding safety need not be an excuse to exclude students with disabilities from physical education or extra curricular sports. While school safety is of the utmost importance, viewing assistive devices such as a wheelchair, a walker, or a prosthetic leg as a “concern” is short-sighted and likely akin to the excuses that were once made to prevent the participation of women and girls in sport. This mandate is about opportunity and inclusion. Instead of making excuses, we should be paving the way for school administrators, coaches and educators to enthusiastically consider “reasonable accommodations” as tools to promote inclusion and foster the potential of students with disabilities.

Sincerely,

Cheri Blauwet, M.D.
Clinical Fellow, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital
Two-time winner of the Boston Marathon, Wheelchair Division
Seven-time Paralympic Medalist (Sydney ’00, Athens '04)
Member, International Paralympic Committee Medical Commission


Anjali Forber-Pratt, Ph.D.
Two-time Paralympic Medalist (Beijing ‘08)
Member, US Paralympic track and field team (London 2012)
Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award Recipient from the American Association of Persons with Disabilities (2013)

About Boston Public Schools Sports Blog

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Several reporters, editors and correspondents contribute updates, news and features to the BPS Sports Blog:
  • Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
  • Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at butler.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.
Also expect updates from Boston.com High School sports editor Zuri Berry and the Globe staff.
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