NJ passes bill improving athletic opportunities for students with disabilities

young man playing basketball in a wheelchair
Equal Access to Sports

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill June 19, requiring schools to provide reasonable accommodation to students in school athletics programs.

“It was a key part of me growing up. And I learned some really valuable life lessons from those years, about team work and leadership and discipline and hard work… Unfortunately, some folks have been excluded from participating in sports activities for a variety of stereotypical reasons,” Gov. Christie said at the bill signing, according to an article by NJ.com. “Here’s the bottom line. Everybody – everybody – should have the opportunity to experience the things that I experienced as a young man in this state, and that my sons and daughters are now experiencing in this state.”

In January 2013, the U.S. Department of Education released guidances regarding school athletics, calling on schools nationwide to provide qualified students with disabilities “an opportunity to benefit from the school district’s program equal to that of students without disabilities.”

According to a news release from Gov. Christie’s office, the bipartisan bill seeks to build on this guidance by requiring schools to take steps to ensure students have an equal opportunity to participate in sports programs and physical activity programs to “the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student.”

In addition, schools must provide reasonable modifications and aids in their programs, in order to promote further inclusion.

The bill comes as the Special Olympics events continue throughout the week in New Jersey.

“Sports is a way to learn how to win and to lose, to learn how to celebrate and make teammates,” Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver said. “But also, sports is a way to crack open the heart of the nation.

“To see that this long legacy of discrimination and bias and isolation and exclusion and humiliation and bullying, that this long tradition which … was accepted as the status quo, had to end.”