Providing Inclusive Recreation Opportunities: The Cincinnati Model

by Stephanie Montgomery, M.S.,CTRS and Alayne Kazin,M.A., CTRS

What is inclusion?

Inclusion is people with and without disabilities participating in recreation together! The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that parks and recreation programs and services are provided in the "most integrated setting." Although the term "Integration" is used throughout the ADA, "Inclusion" has become the word which is most commonly associated with the concept of integrating persons with disabilities into general services (school, community, etc.)

Integration is fundamental to the purpose of the ADA. Despite the existence of separate or special programs designed to provide a benefit to persons with disabilities, these programs cannot be used to restrict the participation of persons with disabilities in general activities.

Inclusion refers to a philosophy that goes well beyond non-discrimination and takes a proactive approach to including all people in all programs and services. For parks and recreation departments, an inclusive approach involves actively promoting general programs to people with disabilities and planning ahead for their participation.

The ability to develop and implement programs, meeting the needs of all citizens is the ultimate measure of success. All employees share in the responsibility for including people with disabilities. Each staff member, can promote inclusion by conveying an attitude of acceptance and willingness to accommodate.

Inclusive programs benefit everyone! In addition to the benefits to those with disabilities, inclusive programs help everyone to become more sensitive to individual differences. This awareness and sensitivity to individual differences will hopefully lead to attitudes of acceptance, which carry over to all areas of life.

Cincinnati Recreation Commission

The Cincinnati Recreation Commission (CRC) was created in 1926 to serve the citizens of Cincinnati and now serves the greater metropolitan area of the City of Cincinnati, Hamilton County, and the Tri- State Area (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky & Indiana), with a total population of one million people.

CRC currently operates:

  • 31 Community Centers
  • 20 Senior Centers
  • 46 Pools
  • 7 Golf Courses
  • approximately 242 full time employees
  • approximately 1500 part- time employees

The CRC began serving individuals with disabilities in 1967, originating as a consulting service to area nursing homes. This service evolved into the Division for the "Ill and Handicapped." This eventually became the Division of Therapeutic Recreation, representing the connection with the TR process. Therapeutic Recreation has offered a wide variety of specialized programs for individuals with disabilities. Since the passage of the ADA in 1990, the Division of Therapeutic Recreation has advocated the "Recreation for All" philosophy and began educating its employees about the ADA.

The "Inclusion Team" is aligned under the Division of Therapeutic Recreation. The Inclusion Coordinator and an Inclusion Specialist provide the primary structure for the Inclusion Team within the Division. Both staff working to promote the efforts of inclusion are Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists (CTRS). Supplemental support includes part-time staff who also provide inclusion support assistance. The ultimate goal of the Inclusion Team is to assist participants with disabilities participating in existing programs. 

The Inclusion Team also extends beyond the Inclusion Coordinator and Inclusion Specialist. Inclusion efforts would not be successful without the cooperation and dedication of our community center staff who serve children with disabilities within their programs. Success has also been achieved through proactive parenting, collaboration with the school systems and community service agencies.

The Inclusion Team strives to excel in seven key components in the delivery of inclusion services.

1. Inclusion Support Within Community Centers

The Inclusion Specialist will facilitate the process of inclusion by using a variety of techniques to assist in the transition to general programming. The Inclusion Specialist utilizes the Therapeutic Recreation Process (Assessment, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation) to successfully achieve these goals. Once the techniques are understood and implemented the Inclusion Specialist's role changes from direct to indirect support.

Possible accommodations include:

  • Adaptive Equipment/ Adaptation of Activities
  • Behavior Support Plan
  • Individualized Disability Awareness Training for Staff
  • Architectural Accessibility
  • Increased Supervision (Inclusion Support Assistant)
  • Personal Care

2. Disability Awareness Program

In order to promote a healthy inclusive environment, and foster a climate of acceptance and support for people with disabilities, the Inclusion Team created a Disability Awareness Program (DAP). This educational program was designed to teach school age children (ages 7-8) about various disabilities they may encounter in the community.

Goals for the Disability Awareness Program include:

  • To introduce and promote "people first" language and vocabulary related to specific disabilities.
  • To increase awareness that people are different in many ways and the differences should not act as a barrier to friendship and acceptance.
  • To increase knowledge of various types of disabilities such as vision, speech, hearing, motor, cognitive, and behavioral impairments.
  • To simulate different types of disabilities and increase participant sensitivity.
  • To introduce various types of adapted equipment and assistive technologies available for people with disabilities.
  • To promote social acceptance and encourage friendship development.

3. Staff Training

Many of the staff within our organization have had little previous experience working with people with disabilities. Therefore, the Inclusion Team takes the opportunity to educate the staff on how to program for individuals with disabilities. Staff development takes two forms; formal training and individualized training.

Formal educational sessions are generally offered during pre-season training (summer day camp). At this time of the year, the organization is orienting approximately 242 seasonal staff. Inclusion staff will facilitate in-services on the fundamentals of inclusion, behavior management, provide adaptations, and non-violent crisis intervention.

Individualized training occurs when a child with a disability is enrolled into a general program. Inclusion staff provide the community center staff with information (verbal and written) about the disability and the implications for recreation.

4. Internal & External Marketing

The Inclusion Team works to promote a welcoming attitude to people with disabilities through all facets of marketing. All of our literature (brochures, calendars) for the public includes a statement indicating a willingness to accommodate individuals with disabilities. Including this accommodating statement makes our facilities and programs more inviting to participants with disabilities.

In addition to promoting inclusion to the public, efforts are made to promote inclusion to the staff at the community centers. We accomplish this through monthly newsletters, Inclusion Awards, e-mails, flyers, etc. We believe if we continuously promote the ethical, legislative and beneficial reasons for inclusion; the staff will follow in our commitment.

5. Advocacy

Above all, the Inclusion Team serves people with disabilities. We are a voice within the organization advocating for equal access to individuals with disabilities. Our role is to break down attitudinal, architectural, and programmatic barriers for individuals with disabilities who want to take part in our programs at the Cincinnati Recreation Commission.

6. Integration

As we continue to work towards making existing programs (i.e. After-School Day Camp and Summer Day Camp) more accessible to individuals with disabilities, we will begin to break ground for Therapeutic Recreation staff to facilitate programming side by side with general programmers. Our initial "pilot program" was attempted through a summer day camp program in 2001. Through this experience, we had the opportunity to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses of implementing an integrated program.

7. Inclusion Council

As the Inclusion Team acts as an advocate for inclusion; it is ultimately the responsibility of the community centers to successfully facilitate the process. Teamwork is the best approach to successful inclusion. Our approach to the development of a partnership on inclusion is through the "Inclusion Council." This council consists of approximately 8-10 representatives from various community centers who work with the Inclusion Team to assist in the decision-making issues within inclusion. The Inclusion Council meets at least once a month to discuss issues which may arise in programming for individuals with disabilities. It is also an opportunity to empower the staff to be more involved with inclusion in the field of recreation. In addition, the Council will give input as to what is and is not working with the inclusion process.

Success Stories

Sam

Sam is a 7-year-old with Cerebral Palsy who registered for a summer day camp program at one of our community centers. Upon registration, his mother indicated that her child had a disability and would need accommodations to participate in the program. The staff at the community center had Sam's mother complete the Assessment and Accommodation Form and staff contacted the Inclusion Coordinator to provide assistance for the case.

Sam was thoroughly assessed by an Inclusion Specialist prior to the beginning of the program through phone conversations, e-mails with mom, site visits to his classroom, and a site visit at the community center. Sam was extremely excited to attend the camp. At the same time mom was extremely nervous about the new environment for her child.

Some of the issues that needed to be taken into consideration included:

  • The community center was an older facility with accessibility issues.
  • Sam is ambulatory, though his gait is unsteady. Therefore, the stairs were a concern for parents. To accommodate for this safety concern, we added a railing on the right side of the stairwell (there was an existing railing already on the left side). Sam was also able to use a wagon when ambulating long distances (i.e. walking to the pool or walking during a field trip).
  • The Cerebral Palsy effects Sam's right side, therefore causing weakness in right extremities (arm & legs). Sam needs assistance/adaptations for fine motor activities (i.e. art activities, opening/closing containers, and assistance with dressing). To accommodate for these areas, the Inclusion Specialist conducted an in-service to educate the center staff on how to work with and adapt for a child with Cerebral Palsy.
  • As an additional accommodation, Sam's aquatic instructors were trained by the Adapted Aquatics Coordinator in techniques to adapt Sam's swim instruction.
  • Sam had a successful experience at the inclusive summer day camp program. He attended day camp three days a week, participating in all of the activities. The Inclusion Specialist observed Sam periodically throughout the summer to determine if the center staff needed additional assistance. Contact was also maintained throughout the summer with Sam's parents.
  • Sam increased his socialization skills and developed friendships with the other kids within his group. Sam thoroughly enjoyed playing sports with the other kids at camp. The kids and staff created great ways to adapt the games for Sam to actively participate. According to Sam's mother, he will begin participating in Therapeutic Recreation programs to refine some of his skills (i.e. adapted aquatics), and he will also be registering for summer day camp again at the community center.

Raymond

Raymond is a 15-year-old with a developmental delay and ADHD who registered for teen camp at a community center. His caregiver at his group home indicated Raymond had a disability and would need additional support in order to participate. The community center called the Inclusion Team for assistance in providing accommodations to include Raymond. A meeting was scheduled with Raymond, his caregiver and the Inclusion Specialist to complete his "Assessment and Accommodation Form" and to begin the inclusion process.

After a complete assessment by the Inclusion Specialist and review of his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) several issues emerged for Raymond.
  • Teen Camp will be an active program at the community center with teens taking trips to water parks, museums, parks, bowling and camping 4 to 5 days per week.
  • Raymond is ambulatory and very slight for his age. He weighs about 75 lbs. soaking wet! He has difficulty with hand eye coordination and fine-motor skills.
  • Raymond is incontinent of bowel and bladder and wears diapers. He needs assistance with toileting, opening/closing containers, and keeping track of his personal belongings during the day.
  • Due to the developmental delay, Raymond needs prompting and encouragement to participate in the activities with the other teens in camp. Some of the activities will need to be adapted to allow for his participation or alternative activities created when he chooses not to participate.
  • In addition, his caregiver shared some behavioral issues that Raymond engaged in when angry or upset, such as spitting.
  • To plan for a successful inclusion experience a decision was made to provide a one-to-one inclusion assistant (ISA) to accommodate his needs.
  • The Inclusion Specialist provided training for the ISA and the center staff regarding children with developmental delay and how to make adaptations. Disability awareness training for the non-disabled teens in camp was also provided.

Raymond had a great inclusive experience at the teen camp. He attended camp daily and participated in many adventures for the first time. He loved overnight camping, the wave pools and bowling. His teen camp peers encouraged him throughout the summer, and his winning smile made him a favorite with all the girls in camp. The Inclusion Specialist made frequent visits to the center and outing sites to evaluate the effectiveness of his Inclusion Support Plan. His caregiver was extremely pleased with Raymond's progress as he had reduced his occurrences of undesirable behavior to just one episode during the entire time he was enrolled in teen camp.

How can you advocate for Recreation Inclusion?

  • Offer to establish an Advisory Board or Inclusion Task Force at your Parks & Recreation Department to represent the needs of participants with disabilities.
  • Develop professional relationships with other agencies within your community to establish linkages to provide supports & accommodations to public recreation programs.
  • Become an ADA advocate and pass on your knowledge about this law at your workplace.
  • Utilize resources about the ADA such as the ADA hotline (800) 949-4232 through the regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers and the National Center on Accessibility (812) 856-4422.
  • Attend a NIRI Conference (National Institute for Recreation Inclusion) and network with departments who have for inclusion programs.
  • Initiate staff training opportunities for working with people with disabilities and developing a " Yes First " attitude.
  • Evaluate present facilities for accessibility and promote ADA compliance for all new construction.
  • Develop marketing strategies to communicate and inform potential participants with and without disabilities about services, programs and activities in your Department.
  • Establish registration procedures that make it easy for people with disabilities to register and request an accommodation.
  • For many individuals with disabilities, a feeling of acceptance is the most important accommodation. If staff members demonstrate an attitude of acceptance and welcoming, the experience can be positive for everyone!

Resources

Cincinnati Recreation Commission
805 Central Ave, Suite 800
Cincinnati, OH 45202
(513) 352-4945
www.cincyrec.org

National Center on Accessibility
2805 East 10th St, Suite 190
Bloomington, IN 47408
(812) 856-4422 (voice)
(812) 856-4421 (tty)
www.ncaonline.org

About the Authors

Stephanie Montgomery, M.S.,CTRS, is the Inclusion Coordinator for the Cincinnati Recreation Commission Division of Therapeutic Recreation. Alayne Kazin,M.A., CTRS, the Inclusion Specialist for the Cincinnati Recreation Commission Division of Therapeutic Recreation.

The citation for this article is:

Montgomery, S. and Kazin, A. Providing Inclusive Recreation Opportunities: The Cincinnati Model. Indiana University-Bloomington: National Center on Accessibility. Retrieved from www.ncaonline.org.