Desmond Jackson /

Paralympic athlete Desmond Jackson /

When Paralympic athlete Desmond Jackson was a sophomore member of his high school track team, he had a dream. His dream was to become one of the youngest athletes to compete in track/field at the 2016 Paralympics. He wanted to set world records; be a star.

Jackson’s dream started to unfold July 2016.

At the U.S. Paralympic trials in Durham, N.C., Jackson finished second and qualified for the U.S. Paralympic team.

The 2016 Paralympic Games bought 4,300 athletes to Rio from September 7 to 18, and featured 23 sports for people with disabilities.

Born with a congenital birth defect, Jackson had his left leg amputated when he was 9 months old. Jackson knew he couldn’t run as fast as other children, but he accepted his limitations.

Jackson began competing alongside able-bodied athletes at the age of eight. As a freshman at Hillside New Tech High School in Durham, N.C., he became the first amputee to run track on the high school level in North Carolina.

A New Directive

In the early 70’s, it was rare to see youth like Jackson competing in school.  Assumptions and stereotypes from coaches kept them on the bench. Had it not been for a directive released by the U.S. Department of Education, they would still be sitting there — completely excluded from their peers.

The directive states:

  • Students with disabilities must be given an equal opportunity to participate in school athletics
  • Schools must make “reasonable modifications” to ensure equal access
  • Schools must provide accommodations to students in extracurricular activities

The rules, also known as “inclusion rules,” allow athletes with a physically disability to participate and score points for their team at high school regional and state finals/championships.

States that have the inclusion rules include Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Scoring events are offered for certain track events and field events.

Access Doesn’t Mean Full Equality

Some parents, educators and disability advocates are happy that disabled students will be allowed to participate alongside their peers, while others argue that the directive doesn’t bring full equality.

Despite the controversy, an article in the National Federation of State High School Associations  states that there are benefits. By accommodating students with disabilities into athletic programs, more students will participate in interscholastic athletics, more students will be connected to their schools and communities, cultural diversity will be increased, and more students with disabilities may go on to be coaches.

The directive is a groundbreaking rule for disabled student-athletes across the U.S. Who knows? Maybe even Desmond Jackson will pursue coaching as a career and inspire greatness in the next generation.

These other athletes also inspire greatness:

Bonnie St. John

Sport: Skiing

The first African-American ever to win Olympic or Paralympic medals in ski racing. St. John won a silver and two bronze medals in downhill events at the 1984 Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria.

Dartanyon Crockett

Sport: Judo

A message on his his Facebook page reads “Don’t pray for an easier life, but to be a stronger individual.” Crockett He won the bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Paralympics and another bronze at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio.

Kari Miller

Sport: Swimming

Kari, a U.S. Army veteran, played wheelchair basketball before switching to volleyball. She started all 17 matches of both the London and Beijing Paralympics

Breanna Clark

Sport: Track and Field

Clark won gold in the women’s 400 T20 at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio. Clark competed in City Section track while a student at Dorsey High School.


Does your state follow the new directive? How do you feel about the  inclusion rules?

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