A Community Inclusion Model: City of Reno

by Andy Fernandez


Below is a model that outlines one way that a parks and recreation department or agency can include people with disabilities in its programs. It is neither a legal document nor a guideline for meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This information, personal experience, and effective and timely communication will facilitate a successful, inclusive experience for all.

This model provides an overview of the City of Reno’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department, a history of the addition of an inclusion program and supervisor, examples of the inclusion process and concepts used, and suggestions for duplication. Additional planning and training regarding disability awareness, the ADA, and how to include people with disabilities are recommended. May your department’s, agency’s or program’s individuality, dedication and common sense take over where this information leaves off.

The City of Reno Parks, Recreation and Community Services (PRCS)

Mission Statement: Provide excellent parks, recreation and cultural opportunities that enhance our community.

The Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department has 12 programs covering the following service areas:
  • Adult & Family Recreation
  • Arts, Cultural, and Special Events
  • Aquatics
  • Golf
  • Inclusion Initiatives
  • Park Maintenance
  • Park Planning and Development
  • Program and Service Management
  • Seniors & Leisure Education
  • Urban Forestry
  • Youth Development
  • Youth Recreation

Overall, the department has 89 permanent, full-time employees (FTEs), 184 FTE-equivalent temporary staff, and numerous contracted specialists providing direct recreation services to the public. The FY2002/2003 department budget of $18,754,504 is financed by a combination of such revenue resources as the General Fund, Parks and Recreation Fund, Room Tax Fund, CDBG Fund, Redevelopment Agency, and Parks Capital Projects Fund. 

Inclusion Model of Practice

Many models of recreation programs for persons with disabilities exist. Several agencies and organizations provide opportunities ranging from segregated specialized activities to programs designed to mainstream, integrate, or include persons with disabilities in the community. All these programs have a purpose in providing recreation and leisure opportunities for persons with disabilities. Traditionally, community parks and recreation departments have renovated and built facilities to be accessible and then offered more specialized programs for persons with disabilities with the idea of being able to move to a more inclusive model of service in the future.

However, with limited resources, no current therapeutic recreation programs in place, and an immediate need to provide access and inclusion within the department, the City of Reno elected to study a different approach to therapeutic recreation and inclusion.

In 2000, the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department conducted a management audit that recommended one or more therapeutic recreation specialists be hired to promote inclusion and accessibility, and meet the needs of persons with disabilities in the community. A needs assessment distributed to Reno citizens demonstrated further evidence of a need for more services. Several organizational models of service provision were studied, including hiring of inclusion staff within each division and creation of a supervisory position to coordinate inclusion throughout the department.

Upon request from the management audit and support from several citizen groups and committees, approval was given to fund a position at a supervisory level to provide inclusion support to all divisions of recreation. In October 2000, a national job search was conducted to find and hire a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist.

Inclusion Supervisor

On March 1, 2001, a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist was hired to join the staff of the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department. Later, the position title was changed to "Inclusion Supervisor" to reflect the responsibility and direction this position was taking in regards to service provision. The evolution of this position was unique to the recreation profession in that it is not a recreation programmer assigned to work with just one division, but a supervisory position hired to handle inclusion and disability-related issues and serve as a resource to all the divisions and services within the Department.

The aim of this model is to facilitate the provision of recreation, inclusion and therapeutic recreation within all the divisions of the department, not just the therapeutic recreation staff or adaptive recreation division. Simply put, it is now the responsibility of all programs and services to provide recreation to people with disabilities.

Job Description


  • To plan, supervise, assign, review and participate in the work of staff responsible for the provision of recreational services for persons with disabilities for the Parks & Recreation Department; to ensure work quality and adherence to established policies and procedures; and to perform the more technical and complex tasks of the work unit relative to assigned area of responsibility.
  • To provide a balance of inclusive and adaptive recreation programs and act as staff advisor on recreational components of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Direct supervision over technical and clerical staff.

Work Scope

Essential responsibilities and duties may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Plan, prioritize, assign, supervise, review, and participate in the work of staff responsible for the operations of therapeutic recreation functions for the Parks & Recreation Department.
  2. Establish schedules and methods for providing assigned recreation program or community services; identify resource needs; review needs with appropriate management staff; allocate resources accordingly.
  3. Participate in the development of policies and procedures; monitor work activities to ensure compliance with established policies and procedures; make recommendations for changes and improvements to existing standards and procedures.
  4. Recommend and assist in the implementation of goals and objectives; implement approved policies and procedures.
  5. Oversee fund-raising efforts and grant preparation for recreation and community service programs; monitor grant-funded programs to ensure compliance with established requirements.
  6. Coordinate the Americans with Disabilities Act review of park and facility design, review requests for services, and advise staff on the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all programs and services.
  7. Maintain yearly calendar of programs and services available to persons with disabilities; provide information and resources to the public regarding upcoming programs and services.
  8. Identify the needs of persons with disabilities living in the City and anticipate the needs of persons with disabilities (residents and non-residents) attending special events.
  9. Conduct on-site inspections of parks, programs and facilities; ensure proper maintenance and safety requirements are adhered to; respond to inquiries from staff.
  10. Design and implement staff training programs that focus on disability awareness and effective customer service.
  11. Supervise the administration of various contracted recreational programs and classes; select instructors for classes; determine class locations; and develop marketing and advertising materials.
  12. Provide responsible staff assistance to the Director of Parks, Recreation & Community Service in the general administration of the Department; conduct operational studies and analyses involving budget, organization, procedures, policies or administrative problems.
  13. Provide information and referral and consultation services to families needing assistance in determining appropriate recreation and leisure opportunities for participants with disabilities.
  14. Monitor assigned departmental events to troubleshoot potential problems; investigate complaints regarding facilities, parks, programs or staff; identify issues and recommend corrective action.
  15. Promote and coordinate specific activities within the therapeutic recreation program; prepare program event and facility marketing material including news releases, flyers, schedules of events, pamphlets and brochures.
  16. Meet with public, private and community organizations to present and discuss issues and programs within the therapeutic recreation program; resolve complaints in a timely manner. Work in collaboration with community agencies and nonprofit organizations to ensure that programs are accessible to persons with disabilities.
  17. Schedule usage of assigned recreational facilities for activities, including special events; provide information and assistance to users of facilities.
  18. Monitor and inspect recreational facilities for safety and proper maintenance; schedule maintenance and secure facilities.
  19. Participate in the selection of assigned staff; provide or coordinate staff training; work with employees to correct deficiencies; implement discipline procedures.
  20. Participate in the preparation and administration of the therapeutic recreation program budget; submit budget recommendations; monitor expenditures.
  21. Prepare analytical and statistical reports on operations and activities.
  22. Attend and participate in professional group meetings; stay abreast of new trends and innovations in the field of therapeutic recreation programs and services.
  23. Perform related duties and responsibilities as required.


Knowledge of:

  • Operations, services and activities of therapeutic recreation programs and services.
  • Principles and practices of planning, organizing and coordinating special and cultural events.
  • Principles and theories of inclusion for persons with disabilities.
  • Methods and techniques of developing therapeutic services and programs.
  • Methods and techniques of grant preparation and administration.
  • Modern and complex principles, practices, tools and materials used in golf course maintenance.
  • Marketing theories, principles and practices and their application to therapeutic recreation program.
  • Principles and practices of public relations and customer service.
  • Principles of supervision, training and performance evaluation.
  • Principles and procedures of record keeping, business letter writing and basic report preparation.
  • Pertinent Federal, State, and local laws, codes and regulations.
Ability to:
  • Supervise, organize, and review the work of lower-level staff.
  • Select, supervise, train and evaluate staff.
  • Supervise and participate in the work of staff responsible for therapeutic recreation.
  • Coordinate the provision of downtown cultural and special events.
  • Oversee fund-raising and grant efforts for therapeutic recreation programs.
  • Oversee operations and use of assigned recreation facility.
  • Respond to requests and inquiries from the general public.
  • Coordinate the provision of contracted recreational classes to the public.
  • Recommend and implement goals and objectives for providing therapeutic recreation programs.
  • Elicit community and organizational support for therapeutic programs.
  • Research, analyze and evaluate new service delivery methods and techniques.
  • Interpret and explain City policies and procedures.
  • Prepare clear and concise reports.
  • Communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing.
  • Establish and maintain effective working relationships with those contacted in the course of work, including City officials and the general public.

Experience and Teaching Guidelines

Any combination of experience and training that would likely provide the required knowledge and abilities is qualifying. A typical way to obtain the knowledge and abilities would be:


Four years of experience in the coordination of therapeutic recreation programs including one year of administrative or lead supervisory responsibility.

Equivalent to a Bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university with course work in therapeutic recreation and leisure services.

License or Certificate
Possession of a valid driver's license issued by the State of Nevada.

Working Conditions

Environmental Conditions
Office and field environment; travel from site to site; extensive public contact.

Physical Conditions

Essential functions may require maintaining physical condition necessary for walking, standing or sitting for prolonged periods of time.

Inclusion Plan

One of the Inclusion Supervisor's first duties was to develop a comprehensive plan that addressed programs, opportunities and services for persons with disabilities throughout the department. Following a system of research/investigation, planning, implementation, and evaluation, a 1- and 5-Year Inclusion Plan was created to be incorporated into the mission, business plan, and master plan of the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department. Following is the outline of that plan:

Program Purpose: To include persons with disabilities in the provision of excellent parks, recreation and community opportunities which enhance our community.

Desired Outcome 1: Ensure all Parks, Recreation and Community Services programs and services are able to include persons with disabilities.

STRATEGY A: Create a model of Inclusion that allows for each program or service within the Department to be responsible for the choices/opportunities/participation of persons with disabilities.

STRATEGY B: Provide persons with disabilities access to all City-sponsored or contracted special events

STRATEGY C: Ensure accessible and barrier-free facilities, parks, and features

STRATEGY D: Improve staff qualifications and training opportunities regarding inclusion, therapeutic recreation, and persons with disabilities.

STRATEGY E: Develop a marketing plan that informs and invites citizens with disabilities to participate in all of the Department's services, facilities and programs.

Desired Outcome 2: Develop the Inclusion office into a resource for the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department to address the recreation, leisure, and inclusion needs of participants with disabilities.

STRATEGY A: Provide support to Managerial and Supervisory staff on budget and funding issues related to inclusion

STRATEGY B: Create a leisure education program that introduces and informs participants with disabilities of Department programs, classes, and services.

STRATEGY C: Develop Inclusion management/personnel plan to include part-time specialized staff, therapeutic staff, and interns that address the needs of the Department to provide recreation services, opportunities, and programs for persons with disabilities.
STRATEGY D: Provide quality assurance of services through periodic review and documentation.

Desired Outcome 3: Facilitate the growth of a continuum of recreation opportunities, programs and services, which meet the needs of persons with disabilities within the Truckee Meadows.

STRATEGY A: Establish and support current and future partnerships and collaborations with area agencies and organizations to ensure a continuum of programming for persons with disabilities in the Truckee Meadows.


The implementation of this plan involves the support and approval of numerous organizations, individuals, and all the divisions with the Department, each of which has an important role in the inclusion of people with disabilities within the community. The body of the plan includes realizable steps, convening parties, timelines, and budget for each desired outcome.


This Inclusion Plan is subject to approval by the Department Director, reviewed by the Access Advisory Committee and the Recreation and Park Commission, and will also be adopted by the City Council as part of the Department Master Plan.

The Department and the Access Advisory Committee will conduct an annual review.
Inclusion Business Plan will be evaluated as part of the PRCS One and Five-Year Budget Process.


The City of Reno welcomes the opportunity to provide accommodations to patrons with disabilities so that full participation in leisure and recreation programs, classes, services and facilities may be enjoyed by all. The PRCS staff will provide reasonable modifications on a case-by-case, individualized basis including, but not limited to, training of staff, additional staff supervision for the group, transfer and lifting assistance, use of adaptive equipment owned by the city, consultation with other professionals and taking other steps to ensure a safe and enjoyable leisure experience. Patrons with disabilities are encouraged to bring a companion with them for assistance at no extra charge or program fee in lieu of an additional PRCS staff member.

Successful participation and modifications will only succeed with the commitment of the PRCS staff and the participants. Patrons are asked to notify the PRCS department staff regarding any and all reasonable modifications necessary for participation at least two full working days prior to the start of a program. However, in some cases the PRCS may need more time to make a reasonable modification. Two weeks notification prior to the start of a program is appreciated. The City of Reno wants to provide a safe and enjoyable environment and will strive to do this cooperatively with all patrons.

IMPORTANT: Before we deny, exclude, or limit anyone's access, we should first try to include him or her in PRCS programs, activities, services, and classes. The process stated below is used by the PRCS staff to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities. This process may be deviated from in extraordinary circumstances or when deemed necessary by staff. The City of Reno reserves the right to take any and all steps necessary, at any time, to ensure the safety and fundamental nature of its programs, classes, or activities.

Inclusion Process

Step 1

Initial Request

Option A: A person registers on his or her own, indicating through a statement of request on the registration form that he or she has a special need requiring an accommodation and has stated the modification needed to participate. If applicable, registration staff informs all participants at the time of registration about the parameters of the class, program, or activity (essential eligibility requirements, prerequisites, parent handbooks, brochure/flyer descriptions, rules, fees, etc.) Registration then informs the PR&CS staff responsible for the program and the Inclusion Office that a person requesting assistance has registered.

Option B: A person contacts the PR&CS staff regarding a program in which he or she would like to request an accommodation. PR&CS staff encourages person to register and, once the person has registered, contacts the PR&CS staff responsible for the program and the Inclusion Office.

Option C: A person is already registered for a program and due to an incident or an acknowledgment of need, requests an accommodation or reasonable modification to participate.

IMPORTANT: Staff cannot assume that just because a patron appears to have a disability, they must follow the inclusion process steps. It is important to remember that a person with a disability need not follow this process if he or she chooses not to request an accommodation or modification to our services or programs. Our registration forms ask all patrons if they need an accommodation due to a special need in order for the Department not to discriminate or single anyone out.

Step 2

Assessment/Information Gathering (if applicable)

Program staff gathers pertinent information from the participant or may set up a time to meet or talk with participant, instructor, caregiver or parent about any necessary information or reasonable modifications that they have requested for full participation. Information may be collected about an individual participant's skills and abilities as they pertain to the specific program, class or service. Each Division or Program area may have a specific assessment or way to gather information. The Inclusion Office is kept informed of the information and may request that an additional assessment or observation be completed to further evaluate the participant when necessary.

Step 3

Goals/Inclusion Plan (if applicable)

The Program staff, in conjunction with participant, caregiver and/or parent may establish attainable goals for the participant while participating in the program, class or service. Goals should be realistic and appropriate for the participant and the activity. Goals may be documented and communicated to the program staff, parent/guardian, or therapist.

Step 4

Reasonable Modifications

Reasonable modifications to the program are determined and implemented on a case-by-case basis, and may be based on the individual assessment(s), the fundamental nature of the program, and the Goals/Inclusion Plan for participation established by the staff, parents and caregivers.

Step 5


Ongoing documentation may be completed to record the participant's progress and implementation of the Inclusion Plan (where applicable).

Step 6


A final evaluation may be completed by the participant, instructor, parent or caregiver and PR&CS staff upon completion of the program. (where applicable)

Other Considerations:
  • PR&CS staff will do everything necessary to provide a safe and successful inclusion experience for every person.
  • If modification cannot be made, PR&CS staff should suggest alternatives and may notify participant in writing of the reason why. The Inclusion Supervisor should review and approve all written correspondence.
  • If a person is unable to complete a program due to safety or health reasons, the PR&CS staff should determine an appropriate credit or refund for the participant.
  • In the case where inclusion is deemed unsuccessful and the participant, parent or care-giver is unhappy with the experience, a discussion can be held to develop other options for the person. Options may include inclusion in a higher-skilled activity, inclusion in a lower-skilled activity, inclusion in a smaller group activity or participating in another PR&CS program if one is available.
  • For more information on Inclusion, Training, or People with Disabilities, please contact the Inclusion Office at 326-6316.

Inclusion Concepts

There are many different situations in which people with disabilities can be included in services offered by a Parks and Recreation department. Some people utilize services independently. Others may choose to ask for an accommodation or reasonable modification so they may participate. The Americans with Disabilities Act states that programs and services for persons with disabilities must be provided in the most integrated setting possible. Individuals with disabilities cannot be excluded from a regular program, or required to accept special services or benefits. It is important to understand and realize that there are many aspects involved in an inclusion process.

The following information is an outline of inclusion concepts used in PRCS programs and services:

NOTE: It is important to remember that a person with a disability need not disclose they have a disability if he or she chooses not to request an accommodation or modification to our services or programs. However, if a request or inquiry is made, you may be asked to be part of the inclusion process.

Initial Request: The PRCS is notified that a person with a disability will need an accommodation or reasonable modification to participate in a program, class, or service. This request may be made on a registration form, a statement of request form, or during an inquiry on the phone, via e-mail, or in person.

Program Eligibility: What is the purpose of the program or class? Are there eligibility requirements of all customers to participate (registration deadlines, skill prerequisites, fees, age requirements, etc)? If so, does the participant meet the criteria?

Customer Needs: The customer's individual needs and abilities may be assessed to meet the request. Each situation is assessed individually, on a case-by-case basis to determine the amount of support necessary for the individual to function within the guidelines of the program. Each program or division may do its own assessment. The Inclusion Office may provide additional assessment and support.

Program Structure and Guidelines: Structure and programming can directly affect participants with disabilities. How are the activities structured? What is the purpose of the program, rules, policies, etc? Identify potential barriers to participate related to the needs of the participant? Can programming be modified to better include the participant with a disability? For example, during "activity period," can different games and activities be implemented so to better include a child with a disability?

Further observation and assessment may be desired.
Inclusion Goals and Planning: What are the goals of the customer for participation in the program? What modifications will be made to attain those goals? How does the program plan to include the customer? Staff may meet with program leaders and the participant to plan for inclusion and to determine the modifications and levels of support to participate.

Inclusion Plan/Reasonable Modifications Implemented:

  • Reasonable modifications or adaptations are made.
  • Participant is included.
  • Reasonable modifications or adaptations may be documented and/or reassessed to determine effectiveness.

NOTE: Other options or a grievance procedure may be discussed if accommodation cannot be granted.


Evaluations may be used to ensure successful inclusion. Inclusion is a work in progress.

Ongoing changes may be made to strive towards goals.

Resources/Support: General recreation leaders/instructors are informed of the resources that exist for them. This includes the Inclusion Office staff, additional training, family/caregivers, teachers, other professionals, and agencies that can assist. Customers without disabilities should be encouraged to call if they have questions or concerns.

Staff Training: Training topics may include the following:

  • Disability Awareness Training
  • Responsible Care Training
  • Inclusion Process and Registration
  • Program Adaptations
  • Adapted Aquatics Training
  • Adapted Golf Clinic and Demonstration
  • ADA and Special Events Planning
  • Effective Communication Workshop
  • ADA Roundtable Discussions
  • Behavior Management and Modifications

Forms: Programs should keep on file a copy of the participant's registration form (and emergency information) waiver, and accommodation request. If applicable, the file could also include the individual assessment, goals, behavior plans, incident/accident reports, ongoing documentation or any other pertinent information.

Inclusion Strategies: The program leader/instructor can help include the person in the program and help other customers (without disabilities) feel comfortable by having a positive attitude, modeling equality, and helping to demonstrate abilities and similarities.

Concerns: Everyone should be encouraged to be honest about their fears and apprehensions. As an employee, feel free to talk with the Inclusion staff you are working with. Also seek out information about the general recreation staff concerns. For questions or concerns about including patrons with disabilities, please contact your supervisor and/or the Inclusion Office, 326-6316. Grievances or complaints concerning a denial of service can be filed with the ADA Coordinator through the office of the City Diversity and Training Manager, 334-3123. 

PRCS Staff Expectations

When including patrons with disabilities, staff may be responsible for any or all of the following:

  • Good customer service. Welcoming and working with patrons of all abilities.
  • Assessing or documenting the needs and requests of the patron with a disability.
  • Willingness to be flexible and open about the inclusion of people with disabilities.
  • Assisting the customer with the establishment of goals, an inclusion plan, or modifications if necessary.
  • Keeping in communication with your supervisor as to how the program is going.
  • Talking with other participants and helping the patron establish relationships.
  • Reporting to your supervisor any concerns of the staff or other participants (in case additional training needs to take place).
  • Providing for the needs of the customer, i.e. physically helping the patron, re-directing undesired behaviors, helping other participants understand the best way to communicate with patron, explaining directions or process in a way they understand, and making modifications for successful participation.
  • When program is complete, discussing with supervisor about how he or she felt it went.
  • Discussing any further details with supervisor.


"My four-year-old son has some developmental disabilities and the sledge provided a perfect opportunity for him to 'skate'. The ice rink staff was great, assisting us with the device, making sure he was properly situated and they graciously and enthusiastically pushed him on the ice during our visit. This enabled me not only to see his smiling face as he skated by but also devote my attention to my daughter as well.

It can be difficult to take a child with disabilities to try a new activity but all the staff we came in contact with made our trip to the rink a very enjoyable event and we will certainly be back soon!"

"Thanks to all of you for the opportunity for our son to be included in your summer recreation program. You are all a wonderful example to others in our community who may think kids with disabilities can't participate in activities with their peers or think it's too much trouble to include them.

We have seen such a difference in our son's demeanor-he's happier than I have ever seen him! His gross and fine motor skills have improved with all the exercise, swimming and running. It was quite obvious that the staff has done a wonderful job of not only taking care of his needs but also having fun with him and showing love and concern.
Thanks for the best summer ever!"

Suggestions for Duplication

  • Solicit consumer/client input.
  • Work with community agencies, advocacy groups, parks and recreation advisory boards and disability advisory committees if possible. If none exist, create one.
  • Develop an inclusion philosophy and mission.
  • Consider professional resources such as the National Therapeutic Recreation Society and the National Institute on Recreation Inclusion.
  • Make inclusion a part of your department mission or vision statements.
  • Develop an Inclusion Team or Committee within your department or municipality.
  • When creating an inclusion process or procedure, clarify other programming policies and fees and charges procedures.
  • Budget for staff training as well as program expenses.
  • Create and follow a comprehensive marketing and public relations strategy regarding access and inclusion.
  • Include disability, ADA, or inclusion statements in all job descriptions, publications, staff manuals, facility and operational guides, and service contracts.
  • Integrate and/or cross-train inclusion or therapeutic recreation staff and general recreation staff.
  • And remember, the Americans with Disabilities Act is a minimum standard in regards to accessibility. Inclusion is much more.
* Thanks to the City of Las Vegas, Nevada - Adaptive Recreation Division and the City of Boulder, Colorado - EXPAND Program for sharing materials and resources on Therapeutic Recreation and Inclusion. This model of Inclusion has evolved from these and other programs.

About the Author

Andy Fernandez is Inclusion Supervisor with the City of Reno, Nevada - Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Department. Prior to his arrival in Reno, Fernandez was on staff with the City of Boulder, Colorado - EXPAND Program in Colorado and previously, with the City of Las Vegas Adaptive Recreation. He received a B.A. degree in psychology with a minor in special education and rehabilitation from the University of Arizona and an M.A. in recreation with an emphasis in therapeutic recreation from the University of Northern Colorado.

The citation for this article is:

Fernandez, A. A community inclusion model: city of reno. Bloomington, IN: National Center on Accessibility, Indiana University-Bloomington. Retrieved from www.ncaonline.org