The good news is that there are a lot of good ways to create inclusive recreation programs and to facilitate social inclusion on behalf of people with disabilities. Below we present the eight requirements of building a successful inclusive recreation program. In the next section of this learning module other strategies for achieving social inclusion through recreation for people with a disability are provided.
- Requirement # 1: Having a mission that embraces inclusion.
An important step in the process is adopting inclusion as part of your organization’s or program’s mission. It is important to put this in writing and, if possible, display it prominently. The mission statement simply needs to say that your program values inclusion and that it will strive to welcome and support all people to participate. It does not need to identify people with disabilities specifically, but it must be understood that people of different abilities and backgrounds will be served by your program.
- Requirement # 2: Having strong leadership and administrative support for inclusion.
In a recent study on inclusive recreation programs, leadership for inclusion from top administrators was noted as being one of the strongest factors for success (Stuart Schleien, Kimberly Miller, and Mary Shea, “Search for Best Practices in Inclusive Recreation: Preliminary Findings”, Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, Vol. 27, Spring 2009). The study noted:
While inclusion initiatives began in some agencies at a grassroots level, it was clear that inclusive services became prevalent throughout an agency only after administrators demonstrated their full support…. Agency administrators did more than simply approve the development of ISD [Inclusive Service Delivery] or provide support for ISD behind closed doors. These administrators clearly designated ISD as a high agency priority by communicating the consistency of inclusion with their agency’s mission, discussing it as a priority when meeting with staff and community members, and developing agency-wide goals reflecting its importance.
- Requirement # 3: Using inclusion facilitators to develop and implement inclusive practices.
Successful inclusive recreation programs also use people who have knowledge of inclusive programs and practices to guide their development over time. This inclusion “facilitator” can be a staff person or an outside person, but it should be someone with specific knowledge of the issues that people with disabilities face, as well as inclusive practices such as adaptations to activities, using specialized equipment, facilitating connections and social relationships, and strategies for communicating with recreation program staff, people with disabilities, families and others in the community. In some places (most notably in the U.S.) these facilitators have the professional designation of Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS). Inclusion facilitators typically spend most of their time working with recreation staff and volunteers in helping them adapt programs, brain-storm strategies for inclusion, and learn inclusive practices. In smaller communities and rural areas, recreation providers collaborate by using one person as an inclusion facilitator thereby reducing the cost to their individual programs.
- Requirement # 4: Staff hiring and training.
Implementing inclusive recreation programs will require staff to “buy into” an inclusive mission and program culture. It will also require staff members that have knowledge of inclusive practices. Inclusive programs create job descriptions that reflect “responsibility for serving participants with disabilities in inclusive settings” (Schleien, Miller and Shea, 2009). The staff hiring process also involves asking questions regarding a person’s commitment to inclusion.
Recreation programs can demonstrate their commitment to inclusion by offering employment opportunities to people with disabilities. Often, people with disabilities will bring important personal knowledge to the program that will benefit everyone. Hiring people with disabilities can also show the general public that you “practice what you preach” in other ways.
Staff training is also crucial for creating inclusive programs and activities. In successful inclusive programs everyone receives training of inclusive practices. Training must also include staff involved in summer camps and after school programs. Training must not be seen as a one time event. Rather, it must be on-going and preferably involve annual “in-service” training events.
New staff should receive an orientation that includes clear information about the program’s philosophy and mission. Administrators should receive training on the legal duty to accommodate and ways in which accommodations can be provided. Staff who may have administrative support roles or who deal with program registrations should be trained in “effective customer service practices” and in dealing appropriately with people of varying abilities and backgrounds. Program staff, including summer camp staff and after school staff, should receive training on inclusion strategies, positive ways to manage behaviours, and on the “cooperative structuring of activities” – the design of activities so that people play together in a cooperative way (Schleien, Miller and Shea, 2009).
Who should deliver this training? There may be a few options. Ideally, you will have access to someone who has the role of “inclusion facilitator” for your program. As noted above, this is someone who has knowledge of inclusive practices and approaches. If such a person is not available then inviting people into your program to do training activities is the next best option. In New Brunswick, Recreation New Brunswick offers assistance with training, including the Moving to Inclusion workshop and the All Abilities Welcome presentation. Information about Recreation New Brunswick can be found on their web-site, http://www.recreationnb.ca. On the duty to accommodate, the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission is available to offer workshops and consultation to recreation providers. Information about the Commission can be found at http://www.gnb.ca/hrc-cdp/index-e.asp.
- Requirement # 5: Ensuring Accessibility and Universal Design.
Physical access is a significant aspect of inclusion and participation. This means that the spaces used for recreation programs and activities must be accessible to all. This includes entrances, restrooms, activity areas, parking spaces, and equipment. In addition to accessibility for people who have mobility difficulties, people who are blind or deaf must also have the features that will ensure their access. It might be helpful to conduct an “accessibility audit”. This could involve asking people from a variety of disability organizations to visit your program to help you identify the things that need to be changed to become more accessible.
There may be particular challenges when recreation programs are located in older buildings. Accessibility modifications may require capital funding which may be difficult to obtain. Program planning must ensure that financial requirements for accessibility modifications can occur as soon as possible in order to avoid claims of discrimination under the Human Rights Act.
Program accessibility is also critical. This type of accessibility involves thinking about how people of varying abilities and circumstances can participate. This means making sure that rules and policies do not exclude people (intentionally or unintentionally). It also means making sure that people are able to afford to participate as well as having enough variety in recreation programs and activities. Lastly, it means ensuring that people have the support they need to participate. Strategies for ensuring affordability, providing supports, and for making adaptations or modifications in program design are provided in the next section; Other Strategies for Achieving Social Inclusion through Recreation.
More and more, recreation providers are learning about Universal Design. This is the “design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design” – Jennifer Skulski, Designing for Inclusive Play: Applying the Principles of Universal Design to the Playground, Retrieved February 26, 2010, from National Center on Accessibility, www.ncaonline.org.
Universal Design enables everybody—not just people with disabilities—”to navigate, manipulate, and appreciate the world.” Some common examples of Universal Design that makes life easier and more accessible include curb cuts, non-slip flooring, grab bars and automatic doors. Universal Design greatly reduces the need for special and on-going accommodations.
There are seven principles of Universal Design. They are outlined here with their corresponding guidelines (as cited in Skulski, see above).
- Requirement # 6: Funding.
The commitment to developing inclusive recreation programs must go beyond words. Specific actions are required over a prolonged period. Some of these actions will require money in order to implement them successfully. Finding enough money may be a constant challenge for many recreation programs.
The requirement of funding means that recreation programs must think about what is needed to implement inclusive practices and activities. Funding may be needed for:
- Adaptive equipment and other accommodations;
- Hiring an inclusion facilitator and providing the necessary staff training;
- Capital improvements to buildings or facilities that do not provide access to people with disabilities;
- Hiring people who can provide support to people with disabilities when this is required to ensure people’s participation (this may mean personal supports in the form of support workers or attendants, sign language interpreters, etc.)
Successful inclusive recreation programs typically identify funding requirements to implement inclusive practices. This gets built into annual budgets, sometimes as “special funds” for the services and supports that the program requires. Some programs have committed to the requirement that any capital fund project include the allocation of funding to ensure access to people with disabilities (Schleien, Miller and Shea, 2009).
- Requirement # 7: Networking.
Creating successful inclusive recreation programs usually does not happen in a vacuum. It normally involves seeking input from people and organizations that have the knowledge and expertise that recreation providers may not have (at least initially). Networking with disability organizations, service providers, disability related task forces or committees, school districts, and other recreation providers that have experience will increase the potential for success.
Networking can have many benefits, but may be most useful when it is used for seeking input for developing inclusive programs, identifying appropriate accommodations and supports, marketing your program or activities to people who are not being served, and for applying for funding to improve your inclusive program. If you are beginning the path to inclusion, you may want to set up an “advisory board” to help you plan the steps needed for success (Schleien, Miller and Shea, 2009).
One note of caution is needed. If your goal is true inclusion, then it is important to resist calls to establish separate programs and activities for specific groups of people with disabilities. These programs and activities already exist in the community. Developing inclusive programs means thinking about how people participate in regular or common recreation activities as opposed to being segregated into groups based on their personal characteristics.
- Requirement # 8: Marketing and Promotion.
This requirement involves telling people in the community that your “doors are wide open” and encouraging people to use your program. For people with disabilities (and their families), it means ensuring that they know that they are welcome and that their needs for support or accommodation will be addressed.
Marketing and promotion can take many forms, including:
- Providing “official statements” in printed and electronic formats that the program is inclusive and welcomes people with disabilities.
- Providing information in a program guide. It is best that this information about inclusion is not left to the back page of your guide. Rather, it is preferable that it is included throughout the guide, including in the introductory pages and registration materials.
- Making direct approaches such as presentations to people with disabilities and parent groups, disability organizations, service providers, school people, and so on.
- Asking people to use “word of mouth” to let people know about your inclusive program. (Schleien, Miller and Shea, 2009)