Let's believe, for now, that the recreation agency has provided appropriate outreach to recruit participants with disabilities into their program offerings, e.g., a summer day camp, craft class, or sports league. Registrations start to come in and, among them are several from persons who have disabilities. In the past, these individuals would have been referred to special or adaptive recreation programs where specially trained staff would know "what to do." Times are changing and the new reality is that all program offerings must be open and accessible. Assumptions are made that these individuals require a full time aide to accompany and "help" them. Assumptions are made that costly specialized equipment and other scarce resources must be provided to accommodate these persons. Assumptions are made about the value and worthiness of having this individual in the program - What benefits are there for him or her? How disruptive will they be to other participants? How much time will it take from staff (i.e., away from the program and other participants)? And, so on and so forth. Well, we all know what happens when we "assume"!
A complete registration form would ask if the prospective participant has a need for any special accommodations to be involved in the activity. A common approach is for recreation staff to provide a follow-up phone call to discuss these needs more specifically. Prior to this call, staff should have a thorough knowledge of how the activity will be implemented so that they can provide this overview to the participant (or parent, caregiver, or other advocate), enabling this person to detail if and when they may or may not need or desire assistance and what that assistance may look like. (An excellent, easy to use pre-program planning process to apply here is the Recreation Inventory for Inclusive Participation (RIIP) described in Schleien, Ray, Green, 1997.) The recreation staff may also choose to invite the prospective participant to the recreation setting where the activity will take place for a tour and meeting to discuss necessary accommodations. The individual, or support person, should feel free to take the initiative and make this suggestion, as well. Face-to-face meetings go a long way in changing attitudes and dispelling stereotypes. However, a critical question remains to be answered:
"If we do not want to get caught making inappropriate assumptions when making decisions about the types and need for specific program and activity adaptations, what principles can help guide us?"
Consider that adaptations are normal strategies we all create to enhance our participation in the many activities of our daily lives, including our leisure lives - e.g., putting on sunglasses, hat, and sun screen while at the beach; carrying a water bottle to quench our thirst; wearing headphones while listening to our portable CD player; changing into exercise clothes before our jog. Adapting and modifying our approach to our leisure life has become instinctual, intuitive, and, frankly, normal. However, because of our uncertainty about what adaptations work or don't for people with disabilities, we just need to apply our thinking process a little more thoughtfully and systematically. Ironically, you'll find that more often than not the adaptations you design will look familiar to those you may have implemented for yourself and others at some other time! When considering what adaptations to make, if any, there are several categories one might consider.