By Gail Dent
The NCAA hosted a think tank on student-athletes with disabilities last week at the NCAA national headquarters in Indianapolis, bringing together subject-matter experts and university administrators to discuss the topic. The two-day discussion was intended to assist the NCAA with understanding how the matter affects its membership and what steps the NCAA and its members might do to continue meeting the needs of the disabled student-athlete population.
Close to 40 individuals convened, breaking into a combination of small groups and larger discussion groups for dialogue. Attendees included athletics, conference and university administrators, members of the United States Olympic Committee staff, current and former disabled athletes, and representatives from the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs and the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.
Members of the NCAA’s Committee on Women’s Athletics and the Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee, which includes members of the Student-Athletes with Disabilities Subcommittee, also attended. The ideas and proposed action steps will be reviewed by the NCAA Student-Athletes with Disabilities Subcommittee during a teleconference call in November.
“This was a very productive meeting with influential individuals coming together to exchange ideas and expertise that will assist the NCAA Student-Athletes with Disabilities Subcommittee with steps on how it can continue to enhance the experience and opportunities for student-athletes with disabilities,” said Chris Ruckdaschel, NCAA associate director of inclusion. “There were a number of issues discussed, including how the Association can continue providing disabled student-athletes with reasonable accommodations as well as learning more about adapted sports.”
Think tank attendees developed a range of initial ideas for the subcommittee to consider. Those ideas included: gathering more research; increasing education and familiarity with the vocabulary used with access to sport for individuals with disabilities; creating resources to equip member schools in serving student-athletes with disabilities; and reviewing existing resources and best practices that are currently being used.
The NCAA Student-Athletes with Disabilities Subcommittee is comprised of members from the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee and the Committee on Women’s Athletics. The subcommittee was assembled to ensure that the NCAA is addressing the needs of student-athletes with physical and education-impacting disabilities and the possibilities for expanding intercollegiate athletics opportunities for those individuals. Carmen Leeds, senior associate athletic director for internal operations at Emporia State, is the chair of the subcommittee.
The NCAA inclusion group has also addressed student-athletes with disabilities at its Inclusion Summit, Inclusion Forum and NCAA Convention. It expects to continue providing awareness and education in this area. Student-athletes who have disabilities is one of five core focuses of the NCAA inclusion group, which also includes racial inclusion, gender inclusion, LGBTQ issues and international student-athletes.