Principles of Adaptation
The following represents tried and true principles when considering the need for and types of adaptations necessary to assure that individuals with disabilities are given every opportunity to have equal access to and benefit from their participation community recreation activities.(Schelein, et al., 1995; Schleien, Ray, Green, 1997; Wehman & Schleien, 1981) Addressing each will make certain that recreation program planners and activity leaders are addressing the real needs of participants with disabilities. It's easy enough to do when one cares about the process and the outcome!
Principle #1: Adapt only when necessary
Many people with disabilities lead very independent lives and require very few additional accommodations and supports to participate in leisure activities and environments beyond those typically employed by most. Take the opportunity to review with prospective participants the nature of the activity and allow them to tell you "I can do this" or "I can't do that-here's what I need to assist me." Use this as a basis for discussing specific adaptations and other possible accommodations.
Additionally, some providers fail to provide modified environments as required by state and federal accessibility laws, thereby limiting the choices and opportunities for people with disabilities. They never see people with disability in the recreation settings, thus assuming (there's that word again!) they aren't interested in participating. Consider this corollary:
Adapt when needed to increase a person's participation, success, and enjoyment.
Here are some examples:
- Roger, a state park administrator, budgets thousands of dollars to pave all the trails in his park to make them "accessible" for the few users he sees who have disabilities. He doesn't realize that most of these users really prefer a more natural trail that offers some challenges to navigate.
- Lindwood Recreation Center upgrades its facilities. The building meets accessibility guidelines. Unfortunately, planners forgot that people with disabilities might like access to the playground equipment.
- The city parks department conducts a community-wide survey to determine the need for special recreation programs before allocating scarce resources to hire staff and duplicate services. The survey finds that people like what's currently being offered. Resources are allocated to train existing staff on disability awareness, upgrade accessibility in facilities, and to purchase some adapted materials for possible use in the regular athletic leagues. A contingency fund is set up to hire activity aides and sign language interpreters, when needed.
Principle #2: Adapt on an individual basis
Be certain that adaptations, which are considered and designed for an activity, are, in fact, relevant for
|Photo of a woman helping a young man balance as he walks a rope|
- A portable ball ramp was purchased for the bowling league. Sarah, a wheelchair user, registers for the league, but there is no discussion about her accommodation needs. She shows up for the first event and the recreation staff automatically sets up the ramp on the alley for her use. She says she's happy they have that option for her, but goes on to explain that she can bowl just fine without it.
- Timothy is a youngster with cerebral palsy, which affects his gait and motor control, registers for summer camp. His parents are told that an activity assistant will be assigned to assist this youngster in all parts of camp. Mom, upon hearing what the activities will be, says thanks, but patiently explains that her son is quite capable of participating in camp without the assistance of an aide because many of his school friends have offered to help when necessary. She says it would be nice if an aide can assist him in the locker room as he prepares for and completes the swimming activity.
- David, an adult with a hearing impairment, contacts the recreation program office to express his need for a sign language interpreter while attending the upcoming park planning board presentation. The office communicates with him via the TTY. Staff anticipated the need and has already hired two interpreters for the evening.
- Melissa's dad tells staff that she may need some extra assistance in the arts and crafts class. The art teacher designs the class so that students can participate in cooperative groups, thereby helping one another finish their projects.
Principle #3: View any adaptations as temporary.
Consider adaptations as transitional until the person can learn the skills and behaviors to participate in the standard or typical way. Some modifications, like use of a wheelchair, dog assistant, or prosthetic device, may always be necessary. However, prevent people with disabilities (or the recreation staff!) from becoming unnecessarily dependent on these adaptations, thereby further limiting future options and opportunities for this person to enjoy these activities in more inclusive settings. For example:
- Stephanie, a young woman with physical disabilities, has been attending swimming classes under the guidance of a certified therapeutic recreation specialist ever since her accident. Her confidence, strength, and skills have improved. She says she's ready to join the YWCA so she can continue swimming, as well as meet other people. (Special recreation programs should serve as stepping-stones to more inclusive opportunities.)
- Jill, the Adaptive P.E. instructor, has been teaching kids how to play volleyball. For now, they are using beach balls and are permitted to hold the ball before tossing it over a lowered net. As skills improve, she begins to introduce more of the standard rules and equipment. After all, her mission is to teach kids how to play games like this when they go out into the "real world."
- Because of Bobby's repeated misbehavior during a weekly crafts program, it was requested that one of his parents attend to help intervene when needed. They did so. Later in the year, Bobby was registered for another crafts class. Recreation staff requested, once more, that one of Bobby's parents come along. With the cooperation of Bobby's parents, his school teacher and the recreation staff, a behavior program successfully used at school was implemented that would eliminate the need for the parents to be there.
Principle #4: Adapt for Congruence
Any adaptations or modifications should make sense, not only for the person using them, but to others
|Photo of a group of people involved in craft work at an outdoor table|
- Ann wishes she could sit with the other parents on the sidelines instead of being the only parent, except the coach, helping her daughter, Molly, hit the ball and run the bases during the T-Ball league. Mom feels embarrassed and the other kids don't really understand why their parents can't help them, too. Eventually, Dennis, a young, energetic high school student, assumes this one-to-one role, plus helps coach the other kids. Molly and her teammates think this is "pretty cool." Mom thinks so too as she cheers along side the other parents.
- Simon has severe cerebral palsy which causes him to drool a lot. At his home, terry cloth towels are tied around his neck to help keep his clothes clean. When he wore these out into the community people who he didn't know thought they were bibs; just like babies wear. Now he chooses from a variety of bandanas he collects on his travels.
Principle #5 - Adapt for Availability
Adaptive equipment, materials and support provided in one recreation environment may not be readily available in another comparable environment. Consideration should be given to assuring that materials and services (e.g., activity aides) purchased aren't so specialized that the participant using these adaptations don't have their options and opportunities limited to using them in only one setting.
In addition, several companies sell specialized equipment especially marketed to the disability community. Unfortunately, because of the specialization in both types of material, as well as the target customer, these products are quite expensive and difficult to obtain. The average person may not be able to purchase these materials.
Program planners should keep these issues in mind when suggesting and designing adaptations. If children learn how to play a game or sport using modified equipment at the neighborhood center, parents should be able to purchase these same games and sports materials at local discount retailers, plus have the know-how to modify them, if necessary. People should know that if they decide to take an art class at community education sites at different locations across the city, adaptive materials and support would be available. It does no good for people to become dependent on one location to meet all their leisure and recreation needs. After all, the true essence of the leisure experience is to be able to choose confidently among many alternatives. People want to know that wherever they go and whatever they choose to do, they will have the support they need to be included and successful in this experience. For example:
- The parks department is sponsoring a bowling league at the Stardust Bowling Lounge. They purchase a tubular steel bowling ramp in case it's needed by a person with a disability. Because they think bowling is a great activity, recreation staff has an agreement with the bowling alley management to keep the ramp and provide it for the use of any community member who has a need for it.
- A school has several activation switches they purchased from a local company to assist persons with severe physical disabilities to operate such items as a cd player, popcorn machine and battery operated toys. They have a cooperative agreement with the recreation department, which allows these, along with other expensive, adapted equipment to be used during school vacations.
- Wilderness for All, Inc. (WAI) provides adapted canoe trips on the local waterways. They have designed some very specialized equipment to assist persons with disabilities to sit securely in the canoe. Jim, a past WAI participant, has an opportunity to go on a trip with some co-workers. He really could use this adapted seating system, but it's not sold anywhere and WAI will not loan their seating system for fear of a lawsuit. Jim can't go with his friends.