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Recreation programmers must be ready to include people of all abilities

This is an excerpt from Park and Recreation Professional's Handbook With Online Resource, The by Amy Hurd & Denise Anderson.

Programming for People With Disabilities

Programmers need to be aware that some of their program participants may have disabilities that affect the delivery of programs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, gives people with disabilities the right to (1) participate in programs specifically designed for them, (2) participate in programs with people who do not have disabilities, or (3) do both (Manschot and Kerrins 2009). Some agencies have therapeutic recreation (TR) divisions with certified therapeutic recreation specialists (CTRS) that provide services where people with disabilities can participate in programs only for people with disabilities. Other agencies have a TR specialist who helps with all aspects of inclusion. Inclusion services enable any participant to enjoy a program while experiencing the fewest restrictions possible. This may mean that an activity or a piece of equipment is adapted to accommodate the individual or that a buddy is provided to assist the participant. Each individual is unique and has different needs. Consulting a TR specialist can help an agency to determine what services to provide to make the program truly inclusive, safe, and enjoyable for each individual.

Physical Accessibility

The physical accessibility of parks and facilities describes how people with disabilities can approach, enter, and use them without facing barriers (Anderson and Brown Kress 2003). Curb cuts on sidewalks, ramps over or in addition to stairs, raised markings on elevator buttons and signs, flashing alarm lights, wider doors, lower countertops, turnstile bypasses, accessible door hardware, grab bars in restrooms, properly positioned sinks and soap dispensers, and lower doorway entry thresholds are just a few examples of making a facility more accessible to people with disabilities (LaRue and Rogers 2005).

There are a number of sources of accessibility standards that enable an agency to reach its ultimate goal of being universally accessible. Universal accessibility takes the ADA one step further and is "a design approach that ensures maximum inclusion and participation for everyone. It is based on the belief that people who have disabilities should have the same access to buildings and facilities that other citizens enjoy" (Anderson and Brown Kress 2003, 18). In addition to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, the standards developed by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (also known as the Access Board) serve as the main source of facility accessibility standards (Dattilo 2002).

Program Accessibility

Program accessibility means that people with disabilities have the ability to participate in recreation programs through support or accommodation. A six-step process should be followed to ensure inclusion for people with disabilities (adapted from Anderson and Brown Kress 2003).

Step 1: Program Promotion

All promotional materials should include nondiscriminatory or welcoming statements for people with disabilities. For example, the Columbus (Indiana) Parks and Recreation Department makes the following statement:

The Parks and Recreation Department intends that all meetings, programs and facilities be accessible to all members of the community, including those with special needs. If anyone requires special accommodations to attend or participate in a department activity, he or she may call the administrative office at least 48 hours prior to the special need. (Columbus Parks and Recreation Department 2010)

Step 2: Registration and Needs Assessment

Registration forms should ask if accommodations are needed. If so, the participant should provide the information and a designated staff member should follow up on the needs. The participant's strengths and issues should be assessed to determine the participant's needs, abilities, and desires.

Step 3: Accommodation and Support

Based on the information gathered from the participant, a plan should be developed to provide the needed accommodations. Dattilo (2002) suggests that adaptations can be made to the following program elements:

  • Size: The size of equipment and supplies can be increased or decreased based on the participant's needs. For example, if game equipment is too small to grasp, it can be enlarged.
  • Speed: If gross motor skills are diminished, the speed of an activity may need to be slowed. For example, a ball with less air moves more slowly.
  • Weight: If a piece of equipment is too heavy for the participant to handle, the equipment can be adapted by changing to a lighter piece or a similar piece. For example, a softball can be replaced with a tennis ball or Wiffle ball.
  • Stabilization: If balance or stability is an issue, equipment can be anchored to ensure it will not tip over and injure the participant.
  • Safety: All adaptations must maintain the safety of the program. The program area may need to be changed to increase the safety of participants. This might include using safe chemicals and supplies such as paints, removing unnecessary furniture, and removing sharp edges.

In addition to adapting activities and equipment it is sometimes necessary to provide staff members or volunteers to aid the participant. This helper might be an assistant assigned to the participant or a peer in the class who gives assistance.

Planning for people with disabilities also includes developing goals and objectives for the participants and strategies through which to achieve those goals and objectives. In TR settings, these plans are often referred to as treatment plans, rehabilitation plans, and care plans, among others.

Step 4: Staff Training and Program Implementation

Staff members and volunteers should be trained to work with people with disabilities and should understand the purpose and process of inclusion. You cannot assume that all staff members will be comfortable and knowledgeable in working with people with disabilities. Training on the multitude of disabilities that might be encountered enhances the experience of the staff members and participants. Once the accommodations and support staff members or volunteers are in place and properly trained, the program is ready for implementation.

Step 5: Documentation

Many participants with disabilities have an individual program plan. This plan is developed with the participant, family member or guardian when appropriate, CTRS staff member, or other inclusion specialist. With the individual program plan there is a need to document the participant's progress during the program. Documentation assesses the individual's progress toward achieving the goals and objectives established for the program.

Step 6: Evaluation

At the end of the program, an evaluation is used to assess the quality of the program itself. Program evaluation is done regardless of whether a person with a disability is in the program. The evaluation process was detailed earlier in the discussion on the program planning process. In addition to the program evaluation, documentation gathered during the program (see the previous step) is used to evaluate how effectively the program helped the participant achieve the program goals and objectives. The evaluation can result in a full achievement of goals and objectives, a referral to another program to accomplish these same goals or new ones, or a referral to another agency to better meet the needs of the participant.

Special Event Accessibility

Inclusion services can be implemented in advance when the agency knows which disabilities to accommodate. However, special events and programs not requiring advanced registration can make inclusion and access a bit more difficult. In this case, programmers must anticipate what they may encounter and accommodate people the best they can. Ball State University has developed an accessibility checklist for people who are planning events (figure 2.4).

More Excerpts From Park and Recreation Professional's Handbook With Online Resource