Illinois state attorney general Lisa Madigan has joined the federal lawsuit of an Illinois high school student who is seeking to force the state into compliance with the federal Rehabilitation and Americans with Disabilities acts. The suit, which was also joined by disability advocate group Equip for Equality, was brought against the Illinois High School Association by Mary Kate Callahan of La Grange, Illinois.
Callahan, who is a quadriplegic, is a member of her school’s swim team and competes in local meets just like the other students on the team. Unlike the scores of other students, however, Callahan’s scores don’t count. They are never added into her team’s total. Furthermore, Callahan is not allowed to compete in state meets.
This is not good enough for Callahan, who points out that many other states allow athletes with disabilities to compete fully in sports rather than limiting their participation.
In an interview, Madigan stated that the aim of the suit is to establish qualifying standards that will allow all students to compete at the state level, set records and earn recognition for their athletic achievements.
State Attorney Madigan initially tried to resolve the issue outside the courtroom. In response to her efforts, the Illinois High School Association sued the attorney general’s office in an attempt to force her to give up on the cause.
The association stands by its current practices and claims its separate-but-not-quite-equal approach towards disabled athletes is good enough. In a statement, Marty Hickman, the group’s Executive Director characterized his group as leaders in the fight to raise awareness about the abilities of student athletes with disabilities. Callahan remains unconvinced. According to her, she and other athletes with disabilities just want to be allowed to “…represent our high school like other students are.”
Callahan, who began swimming competitively when she was six years old, especially enjoys swimming because it gives her an opportunity to move freely without her wheelchair. In spite of the opposition of the Illinois High School Association to her cause, Callahan holds out hope that she will be allowed to participate fully in her sport during her senior year at Fenwick High School.