Park professionals can break down common inclusion barriers with practical considerations.
In 2000, DePauw and Doll-Tepper challenged professionals in the recreation and physical activity arenas to view inclusive leisure services for individuals with disabilities as a way of life. Since the Americans with Disabilities Act was written into law, park and recreation professionals have increasingly been encouraged to view the provision of inclusive services as everybody's responsibility, not just the responsibility of those with disability-based backgrounds. In this spirit, recreation options for patrons with disabilities have opened up and social, emotional, physical and cognitive benefits to all have been recognized.
Benefits to Inclusion
While the concept of inclusion (formerly know as mainstreaming or integrating) has been around for several decades, examinations of the benefits of participation in inclusive recreation for individuals with disabilities is in its infancy. However, during the past ten years, researchers have found social, emotional, physical and cognitive benefits experienced by all who participate in recreation, regardless of disability. Including those with disabilities in recreation experiences increases self-determined behaviors (Devine, Malley, Sheldon, Dattilo & Cast, 1997), develops friendships (Schleien, Fahnestock, Green & Rynders, 1990) and provides an opportunity to practice learned skills (Modell, 1997). For participants with disabilities in particular, inclusive recreation environments build important life skills (e.g., age appropriate social skills), and improves physical functioning such as cardiovascular endurance (Green & DeCoux, 1994).
Another unique benefit of inclusive recreation participation is that inclusive recreation environments are a forum to dispel myths and challenge stereotypes about the limitations of those with disabilities (Devine, 2004; Devine & Wilhite, 2000). Researchers such as Wilhite, Devine and Goldenberg (1999) found that in a social, non-competitive environment, positive meanings of disability emerged between youth with and without disabilities.
In addition to noting behaviors that "reflected acceptance, reciprocity in friendships and equal treatment" (p.42, 1999), and positive language referencing disability were indicators of positive associations of disability resulting from interactions in inclusive settings. Roberts (2005) reported that children without disabilities expressed more positive impressions of their peers with disabilities after a play experience.
In the early years of inclusive programming, there was a concern by some (e.g., parents, participants and staff) that the benefits of participation for youth without disabilities in recreation activities would be negatively impacted by including those who did have disabilities. Studies examining inclusive recreation contexts have found this belief to be unsubstantiated.
For instance, Schleien and colleagues (1994) identified improved communication, physical fitness and social skills for youth with and without disabilities as the result of participation in inclusive leisure programs. In their study on inclusive physical education classes, Obrusnikova, Valkova and Block (2003) found no significant difference in sport skill or knowledge acquisition between members of a class that included a student who used a wheelchair and those in a class that had no students with a physical disability.
Eleftheriou (2005) reported that golfers without disabilities enjoyed playing golf on an accessible course and were pleased to be able to play with their friends with disabilities. Vine and O'Brien (in review) found that inclusive participation in a residential camp environment provided youth with and without disabilities the opportunity to develop a host of problem-solving skills as well as an appreciation for each others' similarities and differences. …