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Guidelines to Facilitate Participation by Athletes with Disabilities

In 1979 the Road Runners Club of America published “Guidelines for Wheelchair Athletes”. Although a valuable resource in its time, changes in law, technology and the amount of information available to athletes and event directors require that the guidelines be updated and expanded to meet the needs of today’s event directors and athletes with disabilities.

The purpose of these guidelines is to provide information for event directors and athletes. It is hoped that these guidelines will facilitate the inclusion of athletes with disabilities in road racing events. The guidelines are not intended to cover all events or situations. Hopefully, the guidelines will foster discussions among event directors, members of the disabled community, law enforcement and public safety personnel and others involved with a particular event.

While the safety of all participants in a running event remains the paramount concern of any event director, these guidelines will help event directors focus on real safety concerns related to a specific disability and not concerns based on false perceptions, stereotypes or generalizations about athletes with disabilities.

USATF has a very specific policy designed to assist race directors so they can deal with the complex questions surrounding disabled athlete participation. RRCA members should refer to the USATF policy on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accommodations, because there is no need for RRCA members to re-invent a complex policy that speaks to disabled athlete participation.
The following outlines the USATF policy on disabled athlete participation and RRCA members are encouraged to adopt a similar policy for their events.

USATF POLICY ON AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ACCOMMODATIONS

Accommodation request:  An individual submits a request for an accommodation, due to an asserted disability, either to an event/race director or a USATF committee.  The request must be specific to a particular competition and to a specific event discipline or activity at the relevant competition.  USATF will not grant “blanket” accommodation requests applicable to multiple competitions, activities or event disciplines.  (Note: event directors will be encouraged to have a space on their entry forms requesting whether an ADA accommodation is needed and informing athletes that it takes four to six weeks after receipt of all medical documents to evaluate such a request.) Responsible party: Meet/race director or USATF committee.

Information review & privacy waiver:  The event director will collect the name, contact information, specific accommodation requested by the individual, and the reason for the requested accommodation and forward this information to the applicable USATF committee chairperson.  The committee chair and USATF General Counsel will contact the individual and request any additional documentation needed, including medical records.  A release/waiver of privacy/confidentiality will be signed by the individual requesting the accommodation in order to permit USATF to review his or her medical records.  These records will be maintained as confidential by the USATF Legal Department.  The review of all relevant documents will not begin, and the four to six week clock will not start to run, until USATF has received all relevant documentation from the individual requesting the accommodation. Responsible party:  Committee chairperson and General Counsel.

Determination ADA individual disability:  The General Counsel shall forward the individual’s medical documentation to a representative of the USATF Sports Medicine & Science ADA Subcommittee (under the Medical Subcommittee) for review.  This body or individual will evaluate and report back to the USATF committee chairperson and the General Counsel on whether the individual is disabled within the meaning of the ADA.  (Note:  A written release/waiver of privacy/confidentiality must be signed by the individual requesting the accommodation in order to permit USATF to review his or her medical records.)  If the Subcommittee determines that the disability does not meet the ADA requirements, the request for an accommodation will be denied. Responsible party: ADA Subcommittee of USATF Sports Medicine & Science Committee’s Medical Subcommittee.

Determination of reasonableness of accommodation request: If the ADA Subcommittee decides that the athlete is disabled pursuant to ADA requirements, the applicable USATF committee chairperson will then decide whether the requested accommodation is reasonable on its face, in relation to the disability and the nature of the accommodation requested.  The essential question will be whether the requested accommodation “for a particular person’s disability would be reasonable under the circumstances as well as necessary for that person?”  In making this determination, the USATF committee chairperson should receive comment from the race/event director on what, if any, hardship providing the accommodation would cause it or the competition.  (This inquiry does not take into account what effect the accommodation would have on the essential elements of the sport.)  If the USATF Committee chairperson determines that the request is unreasonable, then the request for the accommodation will be denied.  Responsible party:  USATF committee chairperson.  [Note:  If an individual has been through this process previously in regard to a different event, the USATF Sports Medicine & Science ADA Subcommittee does not have to re-evaluate whether the individual is disabled within the meaning of the ADA, unless the individual is asserting a different disability than the one previously asserted.]

Determination of whether accommodation would fundamentally alter the sport: If the accommodation request is deemed reasonable, then the ADA Accommodations Subcommittee will determine whether granting the accommodation would fundamentally alter an essential aspect of the sport of track and field, long distance running or race walking, either because: 1) the accommodation is unacceptable even if it applied to all athletes; and/or 2) the accommodation, regardless of whether it is “a less significant change”, would nevertheless give the disabled athlete an unfair advantage.  Responsible party:  USATF ADA Accommodations Subcommittee (permanent committee should include a representative of the following groups:  officials, athletes, disabled athletes, event/race directors, and medical professionals, with the USATF General Counsel as staff liaison.)

GUIDELINES & SPECIFIC PROCEDURES
Once formed, it will be the responsibility of the ADA Accommodations Committee, as it assesses how the process works in real time, to develop working guidelines and procedures consistent with the policy and general procedures approved by the USATF Board.

USATF COMPETITION RULE CHANGES
In addition to establishing the policies and procedures outlined above, the USATF Rules Committee will also clarify the rules of competition with respect to the essential aspects of the sport of track and field, long distance running and race walking.

ENTRY FORMS & SANCTION APPLICATIONS
It is recommended that all event/race directors be asked to include on each entry form a disclosure line similar to the following:  “ADA Accommodation requested ________________________________ (Note:  It generally takes 4 to 6 weeks from the receipt of all relevant documentation to evaluate such requests.  No such requests will be granted if the necessary documentation has not been sent to USATF at least 6 weeks prior to the date of the competition.)”

It is recommended that USATF’s sanction application forms be amended to include information about the procedures for evaluating ADA accommodation requests by athletes.

EDUCATION
In order to implement the ADA accommodation request policy and procedures outlined above, education is necessary at all levels of USATF including: officials, meet/race directors, Associations, and Sport Committees.  An education plan must be part of the implementation of an effective ADA accommodation request policy.

Application Form

  • If a separate wheelchair division is planned, it should be identified on the race entry form
  • On the race entry form, state that athletes with disabilities are encourage to register early (prior to race day) so race officials can make necessary preparations.  Consider making this mandatory Provide a telephone number which athletes may call to obtain information about the race, including course terrain, elevation, conditions, time limitations and availability of an early start
  • If a course is deemed by the event director to be unacceptable for specific disabilities, the application form should state, “This course is not recommended for athletes with disabilities”

Accommodation

  • If toilet facilities are provided, provisions for wheelchair athletes should also be made
  • Wheelchair accessible porta johns should be available

Safety and Special Considerations

  • State that it is the athlete’s responsibility to maintain his/her own equipment
  • Additional safety or other concerns should be disclosed as far in advance of the event as possible. A separate telephone number for athletes with disabilities can facilitate the dissemination of this information as can well written pre-race instructions
  • Pushing disabled athletes in a sport chair has become more and more popular.  From time to time, RRCA members have struggled with having a “no stroller” policy and complying with ADA accommodations for events.  If the persons seeking to enter the event meet any age restrictions placed on participation, then the event needs to make reasonable accommodations to allow a disabled athlete to be pushed in a wheelchair in the event by an able bodied participant.  This is in accordance with providing access to the event.  It is the discretion of the event whether this team is one registration or two.  Waivers should be signed by both participants or the participant’s legal guardian.  If the participants seeking to enter DO NOT meet the minimum age restriction for the event, then the event director does not have to allow them into the event as this would violate the events “no stroller” policy.  While sport chairs are not strollers, a participant that does not meet the age restrictions does not have to be given special treatment as an able bodied person below the age requirement would not be allowed to run.  For example from a real world scenario:  A 5K has a strict no stroller policy and an age requirement of 6 years old for the event.  A family demands to push their disabled 2 year old in the event under ADA access requirements.  In this situation, the event does not have to allow the toddler in the event, because the child does not meet the age requirements for the event.  For example from a real world scenario: An athlete requests to be pushed by an able-bodied athlete in a half marathon.  The athlete requesting to be pushed is over 25 years old.  In this case, the event needs to make every effort to try to include this team of athletes.

Course Terrain

  • Unacceptable surfaces for wheelchairs to race on: long distances on grass, uneven pavement (i.e. curbs, potholes, cross country trails) and narrow bike paths.
  • Undesirable surfaces, which can still be used by wheelchair athletes: roadways with railroad tracks, speed bumps, and similar obstructions.
  • Desirable surfaces: smooth pavement (i.e. roadways, wide bike paths, track surfaces); small hills are tolerable.
  • Elevation: Most courses do not present a problem in this area. However, hills with severe elevation changes (greater than 10%) might be difficult for some wheelchair athletes to negotiate. This information can be given to the athlete in advance either verbally (i.e. athlete may call a telephone number listed on the application) or by use of an elevation profile displayed on the event website in the race entry form.
  • No sharp or abrupt turns at the bottom of hills
  • Well marked turn-around points. This is especially true with U-turns around cones.
  • Avoid finish lines at the bottom of a hill.
  • In the event of wet weather, wheelchair athletes and the event director should discuss whether to proceed. The determination of the event director is final.
  • Event directors should consider consulting with athletes with disabilities in the planning stages of the event to provide a safe and manageable course.

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