Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Shaping Our Future through Advocacy

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Shaping Our Future through Advocacy

Article excerpt

Therapeutic recreation is on the horizon of a new era. The immediate future is expected to be one of the most exciting and challenging. As the 21st century approaches, it is imperative that therapeutic recreation professionals look toward the future so that they can become shapers of their destiny rather than bystanders to change. Already faced with the movement toward health care reform and the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is the greatest challenge to therapeutic recreation to become the architects and builders of our future. This proactive role toward creating a positive future, we believe, can only happen from an advocacy position whereby each professional champions the values of therapeutic recreation.

We have defined ourselves as service providers. However, if we want to be positioned for effectiveness, we must broaden the definition of our role. We must see ourselves and be seen by others as advocates as well as service providers, largely because service cannot be divorced from a policy framework. Advocacy is a force for change. It is rooted in our values and beliefs. It is no longer enough just to provide high-quality services, nor is it enough to leave developing policies and building systems to full-time advocates. Advocacy must start with you.

Out of Our Realm

For many professionals, even the term "advocacy" seems intimidating and something out of our realm of practice. Often associated with politics, it is something many of us seek to avoid, as we deal with the day-to-day functions of our professional roles. Advocacy, however, need not seem so foreign in nature. Most of us are familiar and comfortable with the concepts of marketing, promotions and public relations. While each of these are distinct functions in their own right, advocacy shares similarities in scope and practice. Related resources in these areas are much more plentiful, and can help in implementing an advocacy plan.

Advocacy may be defined as: "A process directed toward improving the quality of goods and services rendered to consumers. An advocate seeks to correct situations in which discrimination, disempowerment or disconfirmation have occurred, and to remove barriers. An advocate is: a person who speaks in favor of; one who pleads or argues publicly for something (such as a policy, belief, proposal, theory or measure). Supporter, champion... a person who pleads or speaks for another."

Why is advocacy so critical to shaping our future? First and foremost, therapeutic recreation professionals have an ethical responsibility to provide quality services to consumers. As mandated by the National Therapeutic Recreation Society's (NTRS) Code of Ethics (1990), the profession advocates for the people it is entrusted to serve. It protects and promotes their health and well being and their inalienable right to leisure, recreation and play in clinical and community settings.

Clearly, advocating for and with our consumers is a daily occurrence in therapeutic recreation and vital to increasing the awareness of others about the values inherent in therapeutic recreation. However, there also seems to be an additional advocacy role for therapeutic recreation professional that is growing in importance. This role is one in which therapeutic recreation professionals advocate for the profession. As figure 1 depicts, these two function actually serve to further one another, and one cannot happen totally independent of the other. Professionals are responsible for advocating for/with individuals with disabilities and advocating for the profession. It is this later aspect of advocacy - promoting the profession - that may be new to many professionals, but is essential if therapeutic recreation is to remain a viable profession in the next century.

There are several distinct roles within the advocacy process that a therapeutic recreation specialist can assume (see figure 1). This allows each professional to select a function that he or she is most effective in performing. …

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