Feature Article - March 2004
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Play With a Purpose

Understanding therapeutic recreation and how it can work for you

By Elisa Kronish

Concern #2: You lack proper equipment and experience.

Solution: Before assuming the worst, evaluate your facility's present accessibility situation. Indeed, you might not have every latest and greatest piece of adaptive equipment, but you might discover there's a lot of potential for TR programming. Once you've determined that potential, then you can assess community interest in a program that takes advantage of your facility's adaptive assets. You could survey nearby hospitals, rehab centers, clinics and residential healthcare facilities. Another, quick way to measure interest might simply be to host a trial run.

"Hold an activity, a one-day thing—swimming, basketball, an adaptive sports relay—and see how many people show up," Johnson suggests. That way, you'll have an idea of the interest level before diving into the deep end.

You'll also get a clue about the gaps in your experience and staffing. If you think you have the potential to run a kayaking program that integrates people with disabilities, and you've got a kayak instructor, then contract a recreational therapist on a short-term basis who can help you adapt it properly. Certified TR specialists know the tricks of the trade that allow people to participate in activities that you might not consider. For example, it might seem impossible for a person with hearing difficulties to take an aerobics class, but a TR specialist knows any activity can be adapted.

"Face the speaker toward the floor and turn up the bass, so they can really feel the beat," Jake offers as an example.

"After an individual [with disabilities] is acclimated to the program, the recreational therapist can even train other staff to run the program," Huston suggests. Once the participants with disabilities are up to speed to participate at their level, then you can have one of your own recreation specialists take it from there.

Concern #3: There's a negative attitude among your staff and community.

Solution: "It's a matter of education," says Austin, who feels that the vast majority of leisure providers haven't seen themselves as providers of recreation for people with disabilities. Interestingly, some of Austin's studies have shown that facility managers' intentions toward serving people with disabilities are generally positive, but attitudes toward people with disabilities are less so. This mind-set may lead to some assumptions of what a people with disabilities can or cannot do.

"Where they experienced difficulty was they didn't feel they had the training or background to know what to do," Austin says.

Braff encourages facility managers to put their staff through training to handle any situation with any type of guest. Proper training gives staff confidence to run programs for people with disabilities. Sara Mumford puts Fairfax County recreation staff through crisis prevention and intervention training; some staff members are also trained in certain medical procedures. Staff training also includes etiquette training. Even something as simple as a staff greeting can be welcoming or intimidating.

"[A person who's visually impaired] might be able to get in the door, but if no one comes forward to help, then the person can't really gain access," Austin points out.