Term Paper: Recreation: Disabilities People

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Recreation: Disabilities

People with Disabilities

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there are 34.1 million non-institutionalized Americans currently living with some form of disability that impairs usual activities - that represents roughly 12% of the U.S. population (Disabilities, 2007). More than 15 million American adults lack the physical ability to walk a quarter mile, or one lap around a track (Disabilities, 2007). Quite simply, it is a certainty that any recreation and leisure professional will need to consider how to develop appropriate programming for people with disabilities. As the baby boomers continue to age, we may experience even higher levels of disability, presenting additional challenges for recreation and leisure professionals.

Recreation and leisure professionals need to overcome these challenges because research has shown that active lifestyles are critical to improving quality of life for people with disabilities. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recreation has been shown to enhance motor development, social skill development, cognitive development, communication behavior, and even vocational skills among people with disabilities (National Therapeutic, 2003). If a recreation and leisure professional's job is to improve people's quality of life, then there is a real opportunity to achieve that mission when working with people who have disabilities.

Many of the disabilities that will be exhibited by clients will involve impairment of cognitive, motor, mobility, and/or sensory skills. With cognitive impairment, a client may have a difficult time following instructions or understanding what is occurring during the activity. Something fast-paced may be out of order. With a motor- or mobility-related impairment, clients may have limited coordination or scant ability to move around, which would rule out heavy physical activity. Sensory impairment, such as deafness or blindness, will frequently require modifications to activities. Activities for deaf people may involve significant use of hand signals, while programming for the blind may make use of touch or sound. Golf for the vision impaired, for example, involves the use of sound so players can locate the positioning of the hole.

It is, of course, a real challenge to plan and execute activities for all the different types of disabilities that clients may exhibit. Further, within these various disabilities there are degrees of severity that must be taken into account. For example, planning activities for people with mental retardation is not as simple as understanding that the clients will function cognitively below their age levels and may have limited motor skills. After all, a person with retardation may be able to walk and carry on a conversation, or may have limited or no speech skills and be confined to a wheelchair. Similarly, planning activities for people who are confined to wheelchairs is not as simple as understanding that the clients can not walk. They also may have limited or no use of their arms and hands, which must be taken into account.

Programming for People With Disabilities

When considering programming opportunities for people with disabilities, there are a great number of national and regional success stories that demonstrate best practices. Without exception, these programs all use careful planning and execution to deliver quality programming that is improving the quality of life of participants.

When one reflects on successful recreation and leisure models for people with disabilities, the Special Olympics stands out. The Special Olympics is a runaway international success, and 2.25 million athletes now compete in the annual games worldwide (About us, No date). While the Special Olympics are certainly a feel-good story, it also provides lessons for managing successful events for people with disabilities. First, Special Olympics makes use of an extensive volunteer network at all of its games to assist the athletes. This ensures there are adequate human resources to support event participants. Second, Special Olympics confines participation to people with intellectual disabilities. By defining a niche, Special Olympics is able to focus on meeting the needs of one sector of the disabled population really well, rather than trying to anticipate the myriad special needs it would encounter if it opened the games to all people with disabilities. Third, Special Olympics aggressively markets and communicates its programs, making liberal use of images of disabled individuals participating successfully in the games. This is encouraging to disabled adults who may be contemplating participating in the games, and it makes the games more accessible. Indeed, according to the Special Olympics Web site, accessibility is one of the major goals of the games.

The Pop Warner Challenger Football League is another example of some best practices for planning recreation and leisure activities for people with disabilities. This non-contact flag football league is open to children with all types of disabilities. While it depends heavily on parent and volunteer support, it also incorporates some other noteworthy features. To encourage participation and ensure that the games are a positive experience for participants, no score is kept, each player gets to score a touchdown, and all players play the same amount of plays (Pop Warner, No date). In addition, there are no practices, so the league does not interfere with school, medical appointments or other special needs of the players.

Another good example of successful recreational programming for people with disabilities is the dances and proms held at schools, group homes and community centers each year. Palatine High School near Chicago runs a successful prom each year for students with disabilities who might not otherwise be able to attend the school's regular prom. One of the interesting things about the event is that it's very structured - the students' aides come with them to the event and there are medical personnel on site (Meyer, 2004). Second, the teachers and aides will teach students skills, such as dancing, in advance of the prom, to help them get the most out of the event. The event succeeds, in part, because it makes sure the facilities, staff and participants are well prepared.

Leadership Principles and Techniques

In my opinion, the main principles of recreation and leisure management for people with disabilities essentially fall under three categories:

Be educated;

Plan diligently; and Think critically and reassess.

By becoming as educated as possible about various disabilities and the limitations of his or her clientele, a recreation and leisure manager can plan appropriate activities and minimize the risk of problems developing, such as injuries. For example, a real professional would never plan activities for a group of epileptic children without first learning a bit about the disorder and ensuring that medical staff were on hand who were experienced at treating seizures.

Pam Walker suggests that education goes beyond understanding one's clientele, and necessarily involves understanding one's community, its needs and its resources (Walker, 1999). This has a great deal of applicability when planning activities for people with disabilities. For example, rather than trying to single-handedly develop and support complex activities for people with disabilities, it behooves a recreation and leisure manager to know whether there are support systems within the community, such as a human service agency, that could help support the activities. Perhaps there are even facilities that specialize in catering to people with disabilities. Some horseback riding operations, for example, may have experience in therapeutic riding for people with disabilities, which would be good information to have.

Planning, of course, should incorporate what was learned during the education phase. By the time a recreation and leisure professional is planning activities for people with disabilities, he or she should have a sense of the challenges posed by those disabilities and what resources may be available in the community. Two of the main things to consider during the planning phase are setting and activity (Walker, 1999). Regarding setting, one must ensure that the setting will open access to the activity for the clients with disabilities, rather than serve as a barrier. A rough outdoor trail, for example, would be a hindrance as an activity setting for people in wheelchairs. Naturally, one must also determine whether the setting has appropriate facilities for dealing with any foreseeable problems. An overnight camping trip with no medical facilities within a reasonable distance may be a poor setting for people with epilepsy or heart conditions.

When considering the activity, again we need to asses whether it is appropriate, accessible, fun, and even challenging, if need be. A competent recreation and leisure professional also will determine what type of additional support will be necessary, whether it involves staff, equipment, or other resources. If the activity will involve frequent one-on-one assistance, or lifting people out of wheelchairs, a recreation manager will want to ensure appropriate staff and supplies are in place.

Finally, assessment needs to be a process that occurs during and after the event. During the event, the recreation and leisure manager needs to maintain flexibility and make adjustments if he or she determines something is not working. After the event, he or she should analyze what worked and what did not and make appropriate modifications for next time. Client surveys and staff input can be critically important to the assessment process.

Myself

According… [END OF PREVIEW]

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