Feature Article - January 2005
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Success in Therapeutic Recreation

Developing programs that will grow

By Kelli Anderson

Therapeutic Recreation (TR) has been around for a while, but only in the last decade or so has it emerged from the rehabilitation hospitals and special service agencies and into the mainstream of recreation. Such a transition is no surprise given that the goals of improving the social, emotional and physical abilities of particular disabled clients can be accomplished through virtually any park district program if a quality inclusion plan and process are in place. Today inclusion is the buzzword in developing a successful, growing, TR program.

If you're one of the many recreation and fitness facilities across the country who are jumping on the TR bandwagon or thinking about it, no doubt you are also one of the many who want to

provide programming that will successfully target the needs and desires of the disabled in your community. Knowing how to make people aware of programming choices—whether inclusive or special—and then implementing a process that gets them through the door and into the right environment is key.


Following closely on the heels of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, ramps and railings sprouted across the country with the collective good intention of making facilities ADA-accessible. Special programming also was developed to cater to the needs of the disabled, but these programs and special events were typically the only ones available to those with special needs.

Today, however, inclusive programming, where disabled children and adults can participate in the same programs as everyone else, is enjoying increasing popularity—especially among the youth with 80 percent choosing inclusive TR. Mainstreaming, now the norm within the public schools, has fostered an expectation of inclusion that naturally spills over into the realm of recreation.

Inclusion for TR not only is being applauded by those who enjoy its benefits, but equally important, it is also the law—as many court cases now testify.

"If you create a bunch of special programs," explains Andrew Fernandez, inclusion supervisor for the city parks, recreation and community services of Reno, Nev., "you are still legally obligated to provide an inclusive program. There must be an option, to the best of your ability."

In light of the legal reality, Fernandez recommends putting money first toward inclusion and only then toward special programs.

"I would have been sued," Fernandez says, "if I'd gone the other way around."