Developing An “All Of Us” Mentality

By Kristen M. Clatos Riggins

Inclusion is a way of thinking that goes further than non-discrimination by taking a proactive approach to include all people in all programs and services. For parks and recreation departments, an inclusive approach involves actively promoting recreation and leisure programs to people with disabilities and planning ahead for their participation. It is the measure of success in our profession. Inclusion is promoted by the words and actions of each full- time employee, seasonal staff member, volunteer, etc.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is federal legislation that allows full and equal access by persons with disabilities to any place that offers public, governmental, and private recreation and leisure services. Parks and recreation entities fall under Title II, which ensures that individuals with disabilities have the same opportunities to recreate in their communities as individuals without disabilities.

The Cincinnati Recreation Commission (CRC) was created in 1926 to serve the citizens of Cincinnati and now serves the greater metropolitan area and the Tri-State Area (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and Southeast Indiana). The Division of Therapeutic Recreation (TR) promotes both inclusion and special recreation opportunities. Since the passage of the ADA in 1990, TR has advocated a “Recreation for All” philosophy and so began educating the community about the ADA. All of CRC’s public literature includes a statement indicating a willingness to accommodate individuals with disabilities.

Case Study: How To Handle Requests
Antonio lives with his grandmother in the Price Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati. He is 7 years old and has a diagnosis of autism. His grandmother works during the day and needs care for Antonio during summer vacation. Antonio’s teacher has suggested his grandmother contact CRC’s Dunham Recreation Center, only 3 miles from their home.

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Step 1: Request For Accommodations
Recreation center staff members must first answer any questions with a positive, welcoming attitude. It is the responsibility of the point of contact, whether full-time staff, seasonal staff, or volunteer, to make the family feel like Antonio is accepted and will be accommodated appropriately. In order to best assist people to participate in integrated settings, supports must be individualized and flexible, specific to the needs of the child and the expectations of the program. Once the essential eligibility of the child has been established, and the program registration and payment have been completed, it is the staff’s responsibility to offer the family a Request for Accommodation form. The completion of this document formally begins the inclusion process, which, in its entirety, should take 7 to 10 days.

Possible accommodations include:

  • Adaptive equipment/adaptation of activities
  • Behavior support plan
  • Individualized disability-awareness training for staff members
  • Architectural accessibility
  • Increased supervision (inclusion support advocate)
  • Personal care.

Step 2: Inclusion Planning
The CRC Inclusion Team is aligned under the TR, and is comprised of Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (CTRS). Inclusion would not be successful without the cooperation and dedication of recreation center staff. Facilitation of the program requires an “all of us” mentality. Success is achieved through working collaboratively with parents, school systems, and community service agencies.

In determining how best to assist Antonio to become involved in day camp, the Inclusion Team conducts an assessment by contacting his family and teachers and scheduling in-person school visits. It is important to consider his background; experiences; racial, cultural, and/or ethnic identifications; likes or dislikes; and so forth. Synthesizing all of this information and knowing the expectations of the day-camp experience, an Inclusion Specialist will develop an individualized plan for him prior to participation. This plan is signed by his parent/guardian and includes what the recreation center/day camp staff will provide for him.

Here are possible inclusion support-plan statements:

  • Staff will utilize a visual schedule so Antonio is aware of what is planned for the day, and to help ease any anxiety during transitions.
  • Staff will verbally review the visual schedule in the morning to allow Antonio to understand expectations and/or changes to the routine.

Step 3: Inclusion Training And Support
Agencies may find staff members have had little experience working with people with disabilities. Inclusion training and disability awareness are integral in educating staff members on planning programs for individuals with disabilities. The facilitation of in-services on the fundamentals of inclusion, positive behavioral support, providing adaptations, and non-violent crisis intervention are also important.

Inclusion support may involve physically assisting the person to be part of an activity, and/or assisting the individual to be a part of social interactions. It can also involve helping the child to acquire particular skills and competencies, adaptation of part or all of an activity, and/or use of adaptive devices and equipment. All staff working in a day-camp setting should be trained in the basic understanding of activity adaptations, program structure, and transition planning, and should be specifically trained on important information about the child with a disability.

Depending upon the needs of the child, support could be provided by someone who is assigned to work 1:1, and trained specifically for that purpose. The staff can provide support to involve the child with others in the group, deal with challenging behaviors, and make participation in the activities meaningful. The cost for the staff associated with inclusion is built into the cost of day camp.

While many agencies feel a moral obligation to serve individuals with disabilities, it is important to implement best practices to ensure the safety and success of participants. We envision a future in which individuals with disabilities are welcomed and accommodated by parks and recreation staff, retiring the words “inclusive recreation,” as it will be a given. Day camps are a powerful example of the inclusion process and how successful facilitation can change children’s lives, both with and without disabilities. Recreation and leisure activities are the means through which people with disabilities can have fun, meet new friends, and develop life skills. Antonio’s successful summer is important to his development, his family, his peers, and staff members. Often these relationships make leisure activities more meaningful. Day camps can be a place for individuals to learn, grow, and foster the development of tomorrow’s empathetic and accepting citizens of the world.

Kristen M. Clatos Riggins, CTRS, CDSS, ATRIC, is the Therapeutic Recreation Program Coordinator for the Cincinnati Recreation Commission’s Division of Therapeutic Recreation. Reach her at Kristen.Clatos@Cincinnati-OH.gov.