Equity In Sports

High School Law

"When someone writes 'disability’, they should cross out the 'dis' and just keep the 'ability,' because I think that everyone is able to do something."

Tatyana McFadden
At freshman orientation for Atholton High School in Howard County, Maryland, Tatyana McFadden was told that if she got involved in any of the student activities she was interested in she would have a fantastic four years. Tatyana thought this was a great idea, but when she tried to follow her interests she found she was not allowed.

Fresh off of winning a silver and bronze medal on the track at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece, Tatyana decided to join her school’s track team. She was doing what she was told to do at orientation and began practicing with the track team every day after school.

Tatyana quickly realized that though she may be practicing with the team she was not exactly part of the team.

At the first meet of the year her coaches did not give her a uniform, and when it came time for her to race, meet officials stopped the entire meet, ushered Tatyana onto the track alone, ran her event, and then restarted the meet.

"It made me feel like I wasn’t an athlete," said Tatyana, who wanted to be part of the team and part of the meet, not a sideshow that meet directors felt obliged to include.

Tatyana soon realized that she was not the only adaptive athlete dealing with that situation and asked her mom, Debbie McFadden, what they could do to change the way these students were being treated.

Together with her family, Tatyana sued the state of Maryland arguing for equal access to school athletics for people with disabilities. The lawsuit lasted four years, but resulted in the Fitness and Athletics Equity for Students with Disabilities Act being passed in the Maryland Senate and House, in April 2008. This landmark legislation was the first law in the country to allow, and encourage, students with disabilities to participate in their schools’ sports programs.

That landmark arbitration sparked change beyond Maryland’s borders with schools in 12 states now offering equal access to school sports teams for people with disabilities.

Tatyana won the 2008 Advocates in Disability Award and continues to speak out about the importance of equal opportunity for people with disabilities. Her goal is for all 50 states to eventually offer equal access to school sports for people with disabilities.