Including People Who Are Deaf in Recreation: Despite Advances in Opportunity, People Who Are Deaf Still Need More

Article excerpt

People who are deaf play tennis, take their children to soccer games and like to camp, just like anybody else. However, including people who are deaf in public park and recreation programs has not yet reached the successful levels that consumers and providers both envision. So what makes these recreation experiences appear more difficult to facilitate? A review of the literature seems to suggest three distinct areas that are problematic when providing recreation for people who are deaf. Before discussing the impact of communication, deaf identity and social skills on recreation provision, readers need to understand the importance of inclusive recreation.

Inclusive Recreation

Inclusive recreation means providing services that offer everyone involved a full range of choice, social connections and support as well as the opportunity to reach their potential. Among the numerous explanations that can be cited to support offering inclusive recreation services, McAvoy (2000) states three reasons: the legal mandate; it makes good marketing sense; it supports social justice.

In addition to these solid reasons, inclusive recreation offers the potential for positive intergroup contact within a cooperative atmosphere that exists to a greater degree in recreation than in many other venues such as the workplace. Allison (2000) extends the reasons for increasing efforts in the area of recreation inclusion to the broad area of increased organizational effectiveness by enhancing morale, productivity and individual growth. Support for inclusive recreation services can also be found in the literature of health and quality of life. Leisure involvement is a fundamental dement to life satisfaction and critical to any person's achievement of a healthy quality of life (Fine, 1996).

Obstructions to Inclusive Recreation

Even with a strong foundation to support inclusive recreation, evidence of obstructions, particularly for individuals who are deaf, are present. Numerous studies involving children who are deaf and those who are hard of hearing demonstrate the lack of success that inclusive efforts have had (Kluwin, Stinson, & Colarossi, 2002; Oliva, 2004a; Stinson & Foster, 2000).

Even those adults who are deaf or hard of hearing and well-educated, offer examples of the social isolation and lack of inclusion that still exists. Oliva (Oliva & Simonsen, 2000), who is deaf, stated that despite academic, professional and personal success, the sense of belonging and social inclusion at national conferences and other large group events is elusive even when functional inclusion is accomplished. Evidence that people who are deaf or hard of hearing have not been fully included in recreation programs or facilities, is the lack of compliance with minimum regulations at the physical level, such as visual alert systems or closed captioning for movies (ADA Web site, 2004; Coco-Ripp, 1998).

From a national survey of park and recreation departments, Devine and Kotowski (1999) found several broad areas that explain why inclusive recreation services are limited. Financial restraints, lack of training and the role of qualified staff were key findings in that report. McAvoy (2000) offers that agencies often unknowingly create barriers or an organizational climate that is unwelcoming or exclusionary. Policies, practices and procedures are created that often inadvertently exclude people from participation.

An approach that is inclusive could be creating a policy across the agency that all routine communication be provided in more than one format; for example, use written memos and verbal methods for daily announcements.

Another indication of welcome for people who are deaf or hard of hearing would be publishing the TTY or relay number on marketing materials of the organization.

These examples demonstrate obstructions to inclusive recreation exist but they are not insurmountable. …