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Rutgers to Develop a Sports Program for Students with Disabilities

09/02/2015, 1:30pm CDT
By Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Rutgers University is stepping up to develop a new program.

Rutgers is never the type of school to back down from a challenge, regardless of what it entails.

This past July, Rutgers University agreed to develop a sports program for students with physical disabilities for this fall semester. This program came after Eric Katz, a Middlesex County resident and a wheelchair basketball player, was not able to play sports at the University. Instead, in order to play, he had to enroll at the University of Arizona. 

Senators Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex) and Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) are supporting the program. The University did not previously offer a program for students with disabilities because students had never asked for one, which Greenstein said was not an effective way to build a program. 

“It’s important to be proactive and offer these activities as so many others schools do around the country, so that students with disabilities are not made to feel like second class citizens and can enjoy the full college experience like every student,” Greenstein told nj.com.

The University will launch an Adaptive Sports and Recreation Feasibility Study this fall, which will analyze the cost, offerings and student capacity of the program. 

An advisory panel of the study will visit the five campuses and recommend which programs to offer and how the program should be phased in, according to a letter that senior vice president of External Affairs Peter J. McDonough sent to the senators. The study consists of three or four experts in adaptive sports and recreation programming.

“The study team will also be asked to comment on where increased adaptive sports and recreation programming should rank with regard to other needed disability services and supports,” McDonough said in the letter to the senators.

The commitment Rutgers gives to create the program is an important step toward the kind of inclusive institution Rutgers strives to be, Lesniak told nj.com.

"(The program is) an important step toward becoming the kind of inclusive institution we know Rutgers strives to be, especially in light of the fact that other students have more than 50 club and other recreational activities from which to choose, from belly dancing to basketball and judo," Lesniak said. 

Many other schools and university systems in the Big Ten Conference, such as University of Texas, University of Illinois, and University of Alabama, offer adaptive sport and recreational programs, and Rutgers should be among them, Lesniak said.

“Nearly all the schools (in the Big Ten Conference) offer adaptive sports and recreation programs, some of them very robust,” Lesniak told nj.com. “Rutgers should not be an outlier in this very important area of meeting all our students’ needs for a well-balanced and fulfilling education experience.”

Greenstein said the timing was right for an adaptive sports program at the University.

“If there were ever a time to do this, this turns out to be a pretty good one because it is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act,” Greenstein told nj.com. "I think that would be just a wonderful thing to happen here in New Jersey.” 

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