Inclusive Out-of-School Time
The purpose of this article is to promote inclusion of youth with disabilities in after-school, expanded learning, and out-of-school time programs. For the purposes of this article, the term “include” and “inclusion” embodies the values, policies, and practices that support all youth, those both with and without disabilities, to participate in a broad range of out-of-school time activities.
Research has recognized that “High-quality afterschool, out-of-school time, and summer programs promote positive child and youth development, support in-school learning and facilitate the growth of a skilled workforce. Yet, millions of children, especially the neediest; including youth with disabilities, miss out on opportunities to be in a safe, enriching environment before and after school and in the summer.” 
The term out-of-school time (OST) includes both traditional programs operating during afternoon hours and more comprehensive efforts that respond to the needs of children, youth, and parents during evenings, weekends, summers, and holidays by offering activities that help youth grow, learn, and develop.  Current research shows the following trends:
* Participation in afterschool programs has consistently increased over the past 10 years, rising by nearly 2 million children in the last five years alone. 
* In 2014, nearly one-quarter of families and 18 percent of children rely on
afterschool programs to provide a safe and supportive environment, inspire
learning, and fill the gap between when the school day ends. 
* While participation in afterschool programs has increased, the unmet demand for
afterschool continues to rise. More than 2 in 5 children—19.4 million—would participate if programs were available. 
Research has revealed that youth with disabilities have fewer social connections and lower participation rates in in-school and OST activities than their peers without disabilities.  Studies also highlight barriers which prevent youth with disabilities, particularly more significant disabilities, from participating in OST programs. Barriers include separate classes and school placements which limit opportunities for participation, insufficient teacher preparation, a lack of parental involvement, and a lack of transportation to OST opportunities. 
Existing research also identifies solutions to address key barriers including using peer support models and linking OST programs with the individualized education plan/program for youth with disabilities.  Studies also suggest offering information to parents and teachers on successful approaches and resources which support inclusion in OST settings. 
To help expanded learning, afterschool, and other OST programs to plan for and promote inclusive practices, the New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN) recently issued “Including All Students: Frequently Asked Questions About Including Students With Disabilities In Afterschool And Summer Programs.” (http://www.nysan.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Inclusion-FAQ.pdf)
The NYSAN is a public-private partnership of organizations throughout New York dedicated to building a youth-serving system that increases the quality and availability of afterschool and expanded learning programs. As part of its ongoing work, NYSAN promotes the inclusion of youth with disabilities in OST programs.
Promoting inclusion means treating youth with disabilities as similarly to those without disabilities as possible, ensuring a welcoming and supportive environment for all students. In many situations, inclusion simply requires sensitivity to the needs of individuals–a mindset which is important to working with all youth, whether or not they have a disability– rather than any major changes to the program structure or space. However, in certain cases, the needs of individuals with disabilities may require OST programs to implement a more individualized set of practices and program modifications to allow youth to access and actively participate in the programs and services offered.
OST programs that receive state or federal funding, such as 21st Century Community Learning Centers, are required to accommodate students with disabilities of any kind, and must do so in the most inclusive way possible. Additionally, privately-owned or operated youth programs fall under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that no youth are discriminated against or excluded from the program on the basis of their disability. Programs should begin by thinking about the overall structure of their program and whether it is meeting the needs of youth. Resources promoting inclusion in OST programs include:
* The California Afterschool Resource Center (CASRC), which has many resources for afterschool professionals on how to implement and maintain an inclusive
afterschool environment. (http://www.californiaafterschool.org/specialneeds_inclusion)
* The Special Needs Inclusion Project (SNIP) (http://www.snipsf.org/tips-tools/) has developed an “Inclusion Tool Kit” (http://www.snipsf.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/v2010Inclusion-Tool-Kit-Sept-update1.pdf) for afterschool programs.
* The Advocacy Center’s Together Including Every Student (TIES) program (http://www.advocacycenter.com/together-including-every-student-ties), based in Rochester, New York, provides a short training for student volunteers on interacting respectfully and supportively with students with disabilities and then organizes activities for all students to participate in together.
Programs should train staff in the general principles and skills of inclusion, and may also need to provide additional training in order to accommodate the particular needs of one or more participating youth. Professional development around inclusion is a core part of offering a high-quality program to all students. There are many organizations and agencies that provide trainings and resources for afterschool staff and professionals on how to work with these youth, including:
* Kids Included Together (KIT) (http://www.kitonline.org/), offers fee-based, self-paced online professional development.
* Build the Out-of-School Time Network (BOSTnet) has developed tips and tools for
“Promoting the Inclusion of Children and Youth with Disabilities” (http://www.bostnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Inclusion-Guide.pdf) for afterschool professionals.
OST programs should develop a policy of working closely with the parents and teachers of students with disabilities—again, a best practice for working with all students. Parents are typically the most important resource and partner when including youth with and without disabilities in an afterschool program, and they can help to prepare staff properly for most effectively accommodating their child. Understanding the school day accommodation strategies that special education teachers or para- professionals or aides use with youth ensures consistency and creates a familiar, comfortable environment for students with disabilities.
Providing opportunities for all students to participate in quality OST programs offers students with disabilities the same chance to experience enrichment activities and to develop meaningful relationships with their peers in both their school and broader communities. Inclusion also helps students of all disabilities learn to work well together and breaks down their assumptions and stereotypes about each other.  Inclusion practices are closely aligned with core best practices in the OST field, and a first step toward increasing the availability of inclusive programs may simply require more awareness on the part of OST providers, as well as parents and school leaders, of existing resources and supports for the development of high-quality inclusive OST programming.