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For Gallaudet rising senior Faye Frez-Albrecht and her head coach Larry Curran, the 2016 North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) Swimming and Diving Championships brought disappointment following Frez-Albrecht’s disqualification for missing the start of one of her races-the 400M individual medley.
The contributing factor to Frez-Albrecht missing the start of her event was the lack a lighting system to augment the use of hand signals used to start races.
Frez-Albrecht and Curran could have retreated into resigned frustration. Instead, they saw an opportunity to find a lasting solution, and to help bring about positive change for future swimmers. Together, with Gallaudet’s swimming and diving program, they worked tirelessly, helping to lead the charge to have the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel agree to a proposal for the use of a Reaction Light System in addition to hand signals used for the start of all races involving deaf and hard of hearing swimmers.
Gallaudet swimmers, and the Gallaudet community, had much to celebrate when the panel approved the changes on June 13, 2017. The lighting system already made its debut at the 2016-17 NEAC Swimming and Diving Championships at Cazenovia College, held February 10-12.
“This reinforces the power of student leadership to make a positive change for all,” said Gallaudet President Roberta J. Cordano. “This innovative solution to use a lighting system at the start of swimming events helps to create a more level playing field. Gallaudet is proud to have supported Faye and her fellow swimming student-athletes, along with the NEAC, to develop a positive solution that impacts collegiate swimming.”
The lighting system can be used to mimic the audio commands of the referee. Additionally, the system will fully integrate with existing automatic timing systems. This change, along with others approved, will be effective for the 2017-18 academic year. Gallaudet swimmers have already started using the light system during practice.
“I am thrilled that our deaf and hard of hearing swimmers will now have the same access at the starting blocks as their hearing counterparts,” said Michael Weinstock, athletic director. “We appreciate the NCAA for working together with us and the NEAC to create an equitable solution for equal access.”
Gallaudet will continue working and collaborating with other stakeholders to ensure an inclusive environment where people with disabilities have full access and a level playing field, instead of receiving special accommodations. This rule change to lighting systems for swim meets is just the beginning for what Gallaudet would like to see at collegiate events.
Whereas the rule change currently applies only to races involving deaf or hard of hearing athletes, Curran says that the the long-term goal is to make the use of the lighting systems mandatory for all NCAA championship meets.
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