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Recreation in the Community

Institute Brief 12


Originally published: 1/1999

Suggested audiences:

"When I think of why my daughter should be included in education and recreation activities in our community, many things come to mind. I know that she will have fun and is motivated by learning from other children. I also feel it is important that she develop 'broad shoulders' due to the initial reactions to her disability, which is a skill that will benefit her as an adult. Most importantly, through these experiences, my daughter will be making vital connections within the community by meeting the children who may someday be her neighbors, employers or fellow employees. Becoming linked as children will broaden future opportunities for both my daughter and children without disabilities by allowing their tolerance of differences to grow and fear to fade away."
- Robin Foley

Making it Happen While Keeping it Fun!

In talking about her eleven-year old daughter, Robin Foley speaks for a number of parents of children with disabilities who want their sons and daughters fully included in school and community activities. For parents, the task of finding integrated recreational options is disheartening, especially if their children have been excluded from community recreation programs in the past. Therefore, it is important for community recreation providers to develop outreach strategies that will assure parents that their programs welcome all children, and will provide accommodations for their participation.

Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, recreation providers around the country have worked to improve the physical accessibility of recreational facilities for individuals with disabilities. More recently, a number of organizations have adopted a philosophy that makes a commitment to serve the entire community. Many recreation providers have begun to work directly with individuals and families to make their programs more inclusive. The success of these efforts is the result of thoughtful planning, direct and honest communication, on-going collaborations, creative modifications, and identification of successful strategies for future implementation.

This issue of the Institute Brief intends to provide information that will increase inclusive recreation opportunities for all by sharing some of the successful strategies already used in several recreation programs. A number of recreation providers were interviewed about strategies to support the inclusion of individuals with disabilities. These providers work in various settings including camps, YMCA programs, Boys and Girls Clubs, after-school programs, health and fitness clubs, and youth-development programs. Although these providers represent a wide variety of programs, all agreed that having a positive attitude is one of the most important factors in ensuring inclusive recreation participation.

The following information was developed by Institute for Community Inclusion staff based on current practices of community recreation providers. The topics to be covered include: outreach and advertising tips, modifications, strategies for staff training, how to keep things positive, cooperative sports and games, and ideas on facilitating friendships. A checklist summarizing key points and a list of resources have also been provided.

1. Sending the Right Message: Outreach and Advertising

Running a quality recreational program requires on-going communication with families, staff, school personnel, support staff, the general public and, most importantly, individual participants. Information on programs is provided every day over the phone, in brochures, program flyers, and daily conversations. Frequent contact with community members has far-reaching positive consequences, which include developing trust between providers and families, while providing avenues to address problems and celebrate successes. Recreation providers and Institute for Community Inclusion staff have the following suggestions to enhance communication:

1a With Families...

1b With Staff...

1c With Participants...

1d With the General Public...

An Advertising Tip:

Recreation providers have said that they do not often advertise that their programs are inclusive of individuals with disabilities. Your agency may serve people of all abilities and cultures, however, without clearly communicating to the public that your program welcomes people of all abilities and cultures, many people with disabilities and/or their families will assume your program is like others that have consistently turned them away.

2. Modifying Program Activities

All recreation programs are unique. There are some basic strategies, however, that may be useful within general activities. Providers agreed that successful strategies evolve over time, through trial and error. It is important for program directors to know that they are not alone, and that using a team approach to modifying activities yields positive results. Below are some suggestions that were shared by recreation providers when reviewing common activities where accommodations have been used to promote full participation.

2a Field Trips

2b Arts and Crafts

2c Free Time

2d Arrival/Departure Activities

2e Homework Time

2f Group Games

3. Checklist for Recreation Providers

4. Training Recreation Program Staff

As community recreation programs reach out to include individuals of all abilities, program directors and coaches agree that training is critical for both new staff orientation and in-service training. The following strategies were recommended for training community program staff:

4a Who should be involved in training?

4b What topics need to be covered?

4c Who can effectively train staff?

4d How can we follow-up staff training?

4e. More Tips for Training Recreation Providers...

5. Keeping Things Positive

A common concern expressed by staff from recreation, afterschool, and sports programs is how to effectively include individuals with challenging behaviors. Frequently heard frustrations include coping with youth who ignore directions, who wander away from activities, who do not participate in activities, or who disrespect peers and activity leaders. Here are some strategies which providers can implement to ensure that all participants are supported in a positive, proactive manner.

5a Respect all Participants

Recognize and explore preferences. Present instructions and information in ways that each participant can understand. Pay attention to individual responses to activities. Recognize cultural and religious diversity within your program and create ways to acknowledge and accommodate all customs and beliefs. Encourage respect for peers and instructors at all times.

5b Respect Choices

Pay attention to participant likes and dislikes. Respect the choice not to participate in some activities. Explore ways to make involvement easier, such as encouraging small steps toward involvement in activities that intitally may seem difficult or confusing.

5c Keep Rules Simple

Keep rules clear and simple and communicate them in a manner everyone can understand. Illustrate, discuss, and demonstrate how the rules can be followed. If children help you create the rules for an activity, they will usually respect them more. Remind participants that they are expected to follow the rules everywhere (e.g., at the program facility, in the community, on field trips, and at the playground).

5d Make Expectations Clear

Review the schedule of activities at the beginning of the program. Remember that everyone needs to be informed when schedule changes have to be made. Communicate expectations for each activity or project.

5e Be Consistent

Be consistent with all participants regarding expectations. Do not excuse inappropriate behavior because an individual has a disability. As the program progresses, you may learn more effective ways to keep participation positive, but try to stick to the same basic rules and expectations.

5f Be Fair

When activities are planned, keep all participants in mind. Consider how everyone can participate at least partially in games, events, or programs. Keep in mind that effective instructors facilitate all types of learners in reaching their highest potential.

5g Maintain Dignity

Respect the dignity of all participants. Behavioral issues and personal hygiene issues should be addressed privately. Concerns and fears should be taken seriously and discussed confidentially with students.

5h Tune-in to Feelings

Recognize participant and staff feelings. Help individuals to identify and communicate feelings before a conflict occurs. Try to identify antecedent behaviors, anything that may lead to inappropriate behavior, and do what you can to prevent it. Demonstrate ways to appropriately resolve differences. Be honest with yourself. If you are feeling at a loss, or feel you are losing patience, ask for help from other staff or outside resources.

6. The Sports Page

One of the challenges recreation providers face is the reality of competition. Recreation staff may be concerned that an individual with disabilities is unable to compete with or against their peers. Providers worry about safety, and question their qualifications as coaches to instruct a person with a disability. Keep in mind that most people join a team or participate in sports to have fun and that most modifications for sports are simple and inexpensive. Although accommodations should be made on an individual basis, here are some basic tips to make popular sports more inclusive. These modifications are based on experience of Institute staff with sports programs and coaches, not as a result of interviews.

6a Basketball

6b Kickball

6c Swimming

6d Volleyball

6e Cooperative T-Ball (rules adapted from David Munsey-Kano)

6f Cooperative Games (rules adapted from Cooperation in Sports, Inc.)

7. Encourage and Support Friendships

Participating in recreation and social activities is a natural and fun way for people to meet and develop friendships. Learning a new sport or game, going to clubs, and hanging out are even more fun when you can share the experience with friends. For some people, developing friendships does not come naturally even if they participate in a lot of activities. Relationships can evolve slowly-sometimes leading to loneliness. Some barriers to making friends are a communication or behavior difficulty, shyness, lack of confidence, or discomfort with a particular activity, and the appearance of being "different." Recreation providers are naturally in a position to facilitate and promote friendships among participants in their programs. The following guidelines may assist recreation providers in encouraging and supporting friendships:

Cooperative learning activities encourage participants to talk to each other, and also to discuss ideas, make team decisions, and work toward a common goal. Some cooperative activities may include:

8. Resources:

Recreation Access in the 90's -- A newsletter from the National Recreation and Parks.
277 S. Quincy St. Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22206-2204
703/820-4940 (Voice); 703/578-5559 (TTY)

National Parks Service: Office on Accessibility -- Oversees access issues and provides technical assistance and training on inclusion issues to national parks.
P.O. Box 37127
Washington, DC 20013-7127
202/343-3674 (Voice); 202/343-3679 (TTY)

VSArts -- Works with providers in the field of creative arts.
1300 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20036
202/628-2800 (Voice); 202/737-0645 (TTY)

United Sports Center for the Disabled -- Adaptive/competitive sports, recreation, and education.
263 Alden Street
Springfield, MA 01106
413/748-3095 (Voice)

SPORTIME -- Adapted equipment for recreation.
1 Sport Time Way
Atlanta, GA 30340

Don't Forget the Fun-- a guide to inclusive recreation!

This guide provides individuals with general ideas on advocating for, providing, and participating in inclusive community recreation. Topics covered include understanding differences, building local teams to promote community recreation, addressing common issues and concerns, accommodation strategies, activity modifications, finding or developing necessary supports, and developing volunteer support. A guide to national resources is also included.

To order, call (617) 287-4300, (617) 287-4350 (TTY) or send a check/money order for $25.00 (made payable to UMass Boston) to the ICI address.


This brief reflects the contributions of staff at the Institute for Community Inclusion, as well as recreation providers who participated in interviews. Editorial assistance by Margot Birnbaum, Deb Hart, David Temelini and Karen Zimbrich

Institute for Community Inclusion/UCEDD
University of Massachusetts Boston
100 Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, Massachusetts 02125
Phone: 617-287-4300; TTY: 617-287-4350; Fax: 617-287-4352; E-mail: ici@umb.edu, internet: www.communityinclusion.org

This project is funded by grant HO86U50024 from the Office of Special Education Programs, US Department of Education. The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the US Department of Education.

ICI: promoting inclusion for people with disabilities