Making Playgrounds and Sports Programs More Inclusive for Children with Disabilities
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
Adults who are responsible for community recreation programs, including parents and professional staff, need to put life back into its proper perspective and begin to seriously think about how their community can identify children with disabilities who want and need to play with other children. Children without disabilities also need to have the opportunity to interact with children with disabilities, and not just during lunch or library time in school, but more importantly, in the child's environment, which encompasses sports, recreation, and backyard or neighborhood play. Children who are highly skilled in sports and physical activity need to be taught by their parents and coaches that the gift they have received, albeit for a few short years, is meant to be shared with other children who are less skilled, in the same manner that some highly talented athletes may need to be tutored in math or science by other classmates. The idea is that those at the top of their game need to be of service to those who are still climbing.
A few weeks ago, my wife's Irish step class performed at a local St. Patrick's Day celebration. I had the opportunity to watch one of her students with spina bifida participate with three other girls in her class. Her graceful movements - slightly altered because of her limitations with coordination and balance - were inspiring. It was obvious that she actually required more skill than the other children in her class because she had to compensate for the loss in balance and coordination. Watching her make these new neural connections in 'real' time in front of hundreds of people was simply amazing.
If we could all step back for a moment and look at life in greater perspective, we would realize that the tiny baseball or soccer game played on Saturday morning is simply that - tiny compared to the more important things in life - family, friends, and service to others. It is time for parents, coaches, and teachers to move this agenda forward and begin reaching out to children with disabilities in their own communities. Sports and recreation are much too important to be excluded from any child's life.