Inclusion is the wave of the future. How can we include persons who are deaf and hard of hearing in the least restrictive environment? Communication barriers present unique and special problems that require innovative methods, as well as an understanding of the deaf culture, to solve.
When you go to the health club, he might be on the next treadmill reading a book or watching TV. He might stand out as the only one not using a personal CD player. When you are at the community center, she might be sitting next to you watching her child play basketball with yours. At your favorite restaurant, he might be washing the dishes or sitting at a table near you eating that sandwich that looks so delicious. As you walk past the craft booths at the annual town festival, she might be the person who seems to be taking a bit longer to purchase her ceramic mug. In line in front of you at the neighborhood toy store, she ignores your comment that you both picked out the same new game for the grandkids.
Sound as though we are talking about everybody? Persons who have varying degrees of hearing loss comprise the largest disability group in the United States. Ten percent of the population reports a significant bilateral loss (which means the loss affects speech comprehension). So, for every ten persons with whom you come in contact daily, one may have a hearing loss great enough to make it difficult for him or her to comprehend spoken words in conversation. It could be a bystander, a waitress, a friend, a co-worker, or even a family member.
What does this mean for the recreation professional? It means that 10 percent of the population has difficulty participating in life in the same way the other 90 percent do. In one of the scenarios described above, you probably wouldn't immediately notice that the person has a hearing loss. He or she might have taken pains to conceal a hearing aid or cochlear implant processor (these are worn outside the body--a fact few people realize). On the other hand, he or she might have speech or voice quality that makes you wonder what is wrong. If he or she is with another person who uses sign language, that will be a dead giveaway; however, an obvious but frequently unconsidered fact about sign language is that you will not see it unless there are at least two people present who know that language and who are aware of each other's presence. In other words, the person in front of you could be deaf and fluent in sign language, but you wouldn't know it. As the baby boomers age, the percentage of hard of hearing persons will grow dramatically because people tend to experience hearing loss as a part of the aging process. Therefore, twenty years from now, that 10 percent could easily double.
Since 1975 when President Ford signed the Education for the Handicapped Act (PL 94-142), the subject of integration/least restrictive environment has been an issue. Recreation has often followed the lead of education, especially as it applies to persons with special needs. "Recreation, including therapeutic recreation" was included as a related service in PL 94-142.
With the passage of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the subsequent passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, the prevalence of inclusion as a programmatic response has become even more prominent. It is clear from the language in the ADA that services offered to persons who do not have disabilities must be available to individuals with disabilities. However, neither the ADA nor the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that inclusion be the sole programmatic thrust for recreation agencies. Both statutes suggest that services be provided in the most integrated setting possible. As McGovern (1991) noted, "Programs, services, and activities of a park and recreation department must be available, without discrimination, to an individual with a disability who meets `essential eligibility requirements' for that program" (p. …