Recreation offers specific opportunities for social inclusion that may not exist in other walks of life. Brian Abery, from the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota explains why recreation programs have a number of characteristics that make them good places to facilitate the social inclusion of people with disabilities (Abery, “Social Inclusion through Recreation: What’s the Connection?”, Impact: Feature Issue on Social Inclusion through Recreation for Persons with Disabilities, 2003).
- 1. Recreation programs and activities bring together people (children or adults) who share similar interests and preferences. This is one of the main ingredients in the development of friendships. As Abery notes:
Think about your own social circle and what brought you and your friends together. If you are like most people, you have common interests and in many cases these have more to do with recreation and leisure preferences than political or religious beliefs, socio-economic status, work roles or any other set of factors.
He also notes that recreation is about what people choose to do for fun and enjoyment rather than fulfilling obligations. Recreation also provides opportunities to develop interests in new things and to share a passion with others.
- 2. Recreation programs and activities are on-going and allow people to meet and interact with others over an extended period of time. People do not develop relationships with others with whom they only see once or twice. But when people get together over a period of time they can get to know one another better and discover what they have to offer to each other. Abery notes that this is particularly important for many people who do not have a disability when they interact with people who do. He notes:
The lack of knowledge about disabilities characteristic of most members of the general population makes it unlikely that they will initiate social interaction…. One common misconception about individuals with disabilities regardless of age, for example, is that they do not have similar interests as persons without disabilities. While this couldn’t be further from the truth, it nevertheless inhibits individuals from viewing peers with disabilities as potential friends and acquaintances.
- 3. Participation in recreation programs and activities has the potential to facilitate the development of personal capacities, attitudes and beliefs that support inclusion. This is because of the cooperative nature of many recreation activities. Being part of a team, for example, helps people learn about “teamwork” and collaboration. Also, recreation allows people to “challenge themselves in a relatively safe environment.” People can take risks and responsibilities that help to develop self-confidence and self-esteem.
Recreation offers other benefits for all people. It increases people’s participation in community and promotes fitness and good health. It also provides people with opportunities to learn new skills, including the social skills that are helpful in forming social relationships and friendships with others.
While this module focuses on people with a disability, inclusive recreation is about creating a way in which all people who want to participate can belong. This benefits recreation providers as it allows them to confidently offer programs and activities to the broader population and the diversity that exists in our communities. When recreation programs are truly inclusive, they will also benefit the entire community. People will learn about acceptance and hospitality and find ways to reduce or end the isolation and exclusion that many people still face in their daily lives.
Creating inclusive recreation programs does require a number of actions that are outlined in this module. Sometimes, there is some cost involved. For the most part, however, money is not the most important factor. Inclusion can and does happen when people have positive attitudes as well as the willingness and knowledge to make it happen.