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Department of Education pushes schools to help disabled students participate in athletics

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POSTED: Saturday, January 26, 2013 - 12:30am

UPDATED: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 2:48pm

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is ordering schools to adjust their sports programs so disabled kids can be included in the games too -- as long as the student can play without changing the basics of the sport or getting an advantage over everyone else.

If changes to the game can't be made, schools must create a sports program that is open to disabled students.

Advocates call it a "landmark moment," while critics argue it could be too expensive.

"We are delighted to know that sports are going to be available to students with disabilities," says Luis Enrique Chew, the Executive Director of Volar in El Paso.

"They're kids, just like the rest of the kids. we have to make them feel apart. we have to bring them kind of up to where the other kids are and this is the way of doing it," says Alvin Jones.

Jones' twin sons, Aaron and Alvin Jr. are star athletes at Burges High School. But what their father is most proud of isn't their talent -- it's the time they give to "Meet in the Middle," a federally-funded program meant to develop awareness and inclusiveness for students with disabilities.

"They just love it. They love giving back to the kids, the kids respond really well to them," says Jones.

Kimberly Menchaca also participates in the program and couldn't be happier about the Education Department's push to help disabled students.

"They're just like us. They play. We're all the same. We all have the same abilities. Even though they may be limited a little bit, they still think the same, they play the same, and they have so much heart. you see it," says Menchaca.

Critics argue the order could be pricey and demands money schools simply don't have.

But those involved with disabled students say you can't put a price on civil rights.

"It's the right thing to do. it's an easy thing to do. And it needs to be done. And to people that say it cannot happen, I would say to them, I see with my own eyes, it occurs on the daily. I see the benefits for all students, all populations," says Coach Diane Rincon of Burges High.

Coach Rincon says including students with disabilities in athletic activities has lessened bullying on campus because they're not known for their disability, but rather, they're looked at as just another athlete on the playing field. 

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