WASHINGTON – A major victory was earned out of the pool for the Gallaudet University swimming and diving program on June 13 when the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a proposal stating NCAA men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams will follow the International Swimming Federation technical rules. This change, along with others approved, is effective for the 2017-18 academic year.
The panel approved the use of lights or a lighting system in addition to hand signals used for the start of races involving deaf and hard of hearing swimmers. The lights or lighting system can be used to mimic the audio commands of the referee. The lights or lighting system must be fully integrated with the existing automatic timing system.
Gallaudet rising senior Faye Frez-Albrecht along with her head coach Larry Curran helped to lead the charge for this change after Frez-Albrecht was disqualified from the 2016 North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) championships for missing the start of her event.
"This reinforces the power of student leadership to make a positive change for all. This innovative solution to use a lighting system at the start of swimming events helps to create a more level playing field," said Gallaudet President Roberta J. Cordano. "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."
This past year Gallaudet started to use Reaction Light Systems (RLS) during practice and the lighting system made its official debut at the 2017 NEAC Swimming and Diving Championships at Cazenovia College.
"Gallaudet swimmers are ecstatic that the effort they initiated last year to facilitate deaf and hard of hearing accessibility at swimming meets has met with this success," said Curran. "Now, we all have the opportunity for a fair start!"
Gallaudet's swimming and diving program has worked tirelessly for the past two years to help propose changes to the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Rules Committee to get new language in place to allow the use of lighting systems.
"What a breakthrough! 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 Gallaudet Athletic Director Michael Weinstock. "We appreciate the NCAA for working together with us and the NEAC to create an equitable solution for equal access."
The news received rave reviews from all parts of the Gallaudet campus including one of its faculty leaders, who also swam in college.
"It is wonderful that the NCAA has approved the use of a lighting system. We have tried to use lighting systems in the past but it required manual hand signals for 'get on the blocks,' and 'take your mark.' Many referees had a difficult time coordinating those manual signals and then pressing the button for 'go.' The new lighting systems incorporate light signals for all three actions which reduces human error," said Gallaudet Professor of Biology Dr. Caroline Solomon, a former college student-athlete who swam for Harvard University (1992-96). Dr. Solomon is the Chair of the Gallaudet Faculty Senate and a member of the Gallaudet Athletic Council.
The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel also approved establishing a diving-only dual meet format and a scoring format for those events.
The panel decided the change to follow the International Swimming Federation technical rules was important as the opportunities for swimmers to compete under USA Swimming and International Swimming Federation rules in the offseason continue to grow. It is believed that creating continuity between rules will benefit student-athletes and officials by ensuring consistency among the technical rules of swimming and diving.
The NCAA Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Rules Committee recommended the change.
The rule change to allow lights and lighting systems is just the beginning for what Gallaudet University would like to see at collegiate swim events.
"The goal is still to have an inclusive environment where an environment operates regularly in a manner in which people with disabilities are able to access it instead of receiving special accommodations. The long-term goal is to make the use of the lights and lighting systems mandatory for all NCAA championship meets," said Curran.