Rethinking Disability Inclusion in Intercollegiate Athletics

Examining the NCAA’s Mission and Priorities


  • Sarah Stokowski Clemson University
  • Stephanie O'Donnell The Ohio State University



NCAA, Inclusion, Policy, Disability, Sport, Universal Design


As higher education continues to strive to be inclusive and accepting of all identities, the NCAA must reconsider some of its practices and policies surrounding disability. The NCAA has started to recognize the importance of varying abilities within specific policies and procedures but there is still improvement that must be made to achieve an equitable experience for all athletes. By incorporating universal design into the implementation of the NCAA’s missions and priorities of academics, fairness, and well-being, the NCAA must re-examine which athletes are being excluded by its practices. Within academic regulations, the NCAA must reconsider initial eligibility, minimum credit hour requirements, and progress towards degree. The NCAA seeks to create an atmosphere of fairness; however, the inclusion of varying ability levels is excluded throughout various statements, hiring practices, and how specific sports are played. The NCAA has made well-being a top priority but this cannot be achieved without representation and focus on disability identity. This implies that more funding and resources should be implemented to support the understanding of disability identity development and formation. It is time for the NCAA to rethink how disability can be included thoroughly throughout all aspects of collegiate sports.

Author Biographies

Sarah Stokowski, Clemson University

Sarah Stokowski, PhD, is an associate professor of athletic leadership in the Department of Educational and Organizational Leadership Development at Clemson University. Her research interests focus on college athlete development with an emphasis on the personal development literacies.

Stephanie O'Donnell, The Ohio State University

Stephanie O’Donnell, PhD, is a learning specialist for the Student-Athlete Support Services Office at The Ohio State University. Her research interests include focus on the college athlete experience and identity development with an emphasis on disability inclusion and advocacy.


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