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25 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act: How the ADA Continues to Impact Athletes Competing Today

25 years ago, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990. Today there are thousands of athletes benefiting from this far-reaching civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on mental or physical disabilities and allows those with disabilities to fully participate in the workforce and their community. The Women’s Sports Foundation believes that all girls and women, no matter the ability, have the right to participate in sports and physical activity for its immeasurable benefits.

The Foundation was the first – and only – charitable organization to offer grants to aspiring women athletes with elite potential when they started the Travel & Training Fund in 1984. Travel & Training Fund grants provide serious female athletes with a chance to fulfill their potential on the regional, national or international level through direct financial assistance. In 2012, thirty-one Travel & Training recipients, including 11 individual athletes and three teams, competed at the Olympic & Paralympic Summer Games; eight of whom went on to win medals for Team USA. Then in 2014, eleven Travel & Training Fund grant recipients competed at the Sochi Winter Olympic & Paralympic Games.

Next week, from August 7 – August 15, the ParaPan American Games will take place in Toronto and serve as a regional qualifying event for the Paralympic Games. The ParaPan Am Games will feature 1,608 athletes from 28 countries competing in 15 sports to qualify for Rio 2016. Laws, such as the ADA, make it possible for these athletes to participate in their community and school athletic programs and to train to become the elite athletes they are. While the ParaPan Am and Paralympic Games are for those athletes who are top competitors, there is another event hosted for all age groups that focuses on people with special needs and who may not be able to make it to the elite level as the Paralympic athletes, but still view physical activity as important to their lives.

Currently, the Special Olympics are being held in Los Angeles from July 25 – August 2, where 6,500 Special Olympic athletes are competing and representing 165 different countries. Chelsea Werner, a gymnast, received a Travel & Training Fund grant in 2013 and used the funds to defend her National Special Olympics Gymnastics title and defend her World Title at the Down Syndrome International in 2014. There are also WSF Family Athletes offering their time and support to these Special Olympic athletes, such as Meryl Davis, former WSF President Julie Foudy, Michelle Kwan, Amy Purdy, and our first president Donna de Varona, who serves on the Board of Directors for the event. We are proud to see all of our athletes come together and recognize the importance of allowing everyone to play.

Sports offer benefits to all girls and women no matter their ability or disability, age or race. Everyone can and should participate in sports and the Travel & Training Fund is just one way we help to keep athletes in the game.

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