Tip Ray, M.Ed., CTRS
|People with and without disabilities benefit from interacting with each other in community recreation settings|
We also know, through all the same ways, that people without disabilities benefit from these interactions. Stereotypes are eliminated, as people's awareness is heightened and attitudes change. When this happens in a fun place - like a community recreation center or a neighborhood ball field -new, more accepting, and, consequently, more accommodating attitudes and behaviors find their way into other areas of everyday life - at school, in the workplace, and when a chance meeting happens at the grocery or in the neighborhood.
Finally, we know that community recreation agencies will become more open and inclusive of people with disabilities when they can see that ALL participants benefit from participating in leisure activities and settings. While many state and federal laws mandate equal access to recreation programs and environments, there is still reluctance and, in many instances, resistance to institutionalizing fully inclusive practices. Fear of the unknown, past practices, and uncertainty about "how" to include people with disabilities into recreation environments are several of the more prevalent obstacles. With the support and involvement of advocates of inclusion - parents, teachers, advocacy agency staff, potential participants both with and without disabilities, as well as concerned and interested recreation professionals, themselves - obstacles change to opportunities. Attitudes and practices shift dramatically. Inclusive programs and settings become the norm.
Including people with disabilities in community recreation is both a goal and a process. The final outcome of the process is the goal - i.e., people are, in fact, active and accepted participants in community leisure experiences alongside their nondisabled peers. There are many elements of the process that community recreation providers should consider in their efforts to include people with disabilities in program activities and settings. In fact, much has been written about this topic in the past 20-plus years (see References and Resources section). Suffice it to say that inclusion doesn't just magically happen. It takes committed people, who apply certain principles and systematic planning approaches to make certain that at the end of the day, when the recreation center's light go out, everyone who has come through the door has had a successful and enjoyable leisure experience.