Accessibility in Campus Recreation Programs

Palaestra, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Accessibility in Campus Recreation Programs

Campus recreation programs are a common component of higher education. According to the National Intramural Recreation Sports Association (NIRSA) (, 80% of over 15 million college and university students in the United States participate in various recreational sport programs compared to 2% who participate in intercollegiate sports. Historically, recreation programs have provided services to meet the needs of traditional students. The student population at colleges and universities, however, has changed (Hodges, 2000). Along with the increase in non-traditional students who commute and/or attend college part-time, the number of students with disabilities has also grown. The American Council on Education reported the percentage of students with disabilities increased from 2.6% to 9.2% between 1978 and 1994 (Henderson, 1995). Henderson (1999) also indicated that 1 in 11 full-time freshmen entering a college or university in 1998 self-reported a disability.

Despite the increase of students with disabilities in higher education, few studies related to the participation of individuals with disabilities in campus recreation have been conducted. One study addressing this issue was completed by Hodges (2000). After surveying 31 undergraduate students with physical or visual impairments, it was revealed that 90% of the students never attended an organized campus recreation event as a participant or as a spectator, and 88% reported never utilizing facilities during open recreation.

Accessibility refers not only to architecture but also to the programs provided and availability of information. Due to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is assumed campus recreation facilities in the United States are relatively accessible. Programs offered in campus recreation, however, may not be as accessible in terms of staffing and program activity. There is much literature available in terms of how a campus recreation facility should be built based on ADA stipulations. There are also many existing college and university recreation centers that are model examples of accessible facilities. Little research has been conducted, however, related to accessibility in campus recreation programs. The purpose of this study was to determine the accessibility of college and university recreation programs for students with disabilities. The specific aspects investigated included program usage and availability, staff training, and program promotion.


Participants included 81 four-year colleges or universities that were institutional members of the National Intramural Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA). All regions of NIRSA were represented. A respondent from each participating college or university completed the Accessibility in Campus Recreation Survey, a 20-item multiple response instrument developed by the investigators. The survey was created based on consultation with, and review by professionals in adapted physical activity and campus recreation, and professional experiences of the investigators. The survey included questions related to demographics, university accommodations, programs offered, staff training, participation rates, and program promotion. Respondents were in positions such as director, associate director, or assistant director of their institution's campus recreation programs. They were self-selected based upon the assumption they were the most knowledgeable about the accessibility of their campus recreation programs.

After approval by the participating university's institutional review board, the NIRSA directory was used to obtain electronic mail addresses of all eligible institutions. Respondents from participating institutions voluntarily completed the survey after receiving an electronic mail message inviting them to participate in the study. Through the message, respondents were asked to complete the survey online at the website provided. An invitation was sent to all NIRSA registered four-year colleges and universities (n=506). …

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