Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gym Class

Quinn signs law expanding gym class exemption for disabled students
Staff Report, Chicago Tribute - July 28, 2013

This change in Illinois law sounds bigger than it appears to be. The exemption is only for students with disabilities who already participate in sports, specifically adapted sports like wheelchair basketball or track. It doesn't exempt disabled students from physical education generally. I'm not even sure whether a general exemption would be a good idea or bad.

It got me thinking about my own history with "gym class".

In grade school, I went to gym with the rest of my class, and participated with them where I could. When I couldn't, I did a number of exercises and physical therapies with a one-on-one aide.

The same happened in high school, and I earned my P.E. credits more or less like everyone else, stepping back from any activities that I clearly wasn't able to do.  The only other notable difference was that for some reason, I was exempted from having to shower, though I did have to change into gym clothes. I can't remember how that decision was arrived at, whose idea it was, or why. I suspect that it was due to a vague concern about teasing from other students, embarrassment on my part, or both. Looking back, I don't think showering would have been a problem at all; for a variety of reasons, I didn't get teased much at all in high school, and I don't think my classmates would have been any more taken aback by my naked body in a shower than they did with me clothed.

In college, my P.E. requirement was completely waived, no questions asked … including one of Dartmouth's signature graduation requirements, the swimming test. I was very glad of this at the time, but now that I think about it more, I see how curious it was. Dartmouth is a very athletic institution, not so much in team sports, but in outdoor pursuits. They probably could have offered a far wider variety of ways for me to fulfill a P.E. requirement feasibly. I think the decision to waive it was part of Dartmouth's overall approach to disability at the time … which was fairly weak on systemic accessibility, but very accommodating to individual students with disabilities.

I wonder what would have happened if I had asked for adapted P.E. instead of happily taking the waiver.

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