Feature Article - October 2007
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Therapeutic Recreation Embraces All Abilities

By Dana Carman

Breaking down the barriers

As with any type of programming or project, cost is always the number-one factor cited as a reason for not implementing therapeutic recreation programming, whether specific programs or inclusion services.

"All public governmental agencies are under scrutiny to provide the most bang for their buck," Kazin said. "In Cincinnati, even though we've had therapeutic recreation for 40 years, there's always budgetary issues and constraints."

If budget is an issue, go for inclusion services rather than specific programming, say field professionals. Heyne feels that adapting all services to be inclusive is more in the spirit of the ADA.

Partnering with other local agencies and groups or even the local high school can also start you down the path to incorporating therapeutic recreation. For example, Arlington County Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources partners with the schools to go in and provide activities, which offsets some of the costs and staffing needs. Similarly, Butler said that he's had instructors of "regular" programming want to expand their offerings to those with disabilities and offer those classes in the instructor's studio space, which means Butler and his staff aren't trying to find the space and the staff. If your facility can't accommodate additional programming or certain needs, school facilities or other community centers may be available.

Aceves said her division often collaborates with other agencies to meet needs.

"We can't run Special Olympics," she said, "but there's an agency that does, and we provide the fields and the gym, and get them practice space. Reaching out to agencies in town is a way to start things."

Heyne feels that parks and recreation departments have a lot to gain from partnering with local hospitals, rehabilitation centers and psychiatric facilities to bridge the gap from discharge to enrollment and "assist people in recovery and building healthy lifestyles." Partnerships with healthcare facilities also provide a way to let people know what opportunities exist beyond the clinical setting. When need is established, funding may be less difficult to secure.

This is a point Shaeron King, therapeutic recreation programmer in Arlington County, Va., also noted. "I think some people are not aware of what the needs are and what needs to be offered," she said. "Sometimes you try to be everything to everybody, and you can't. Narrow it down to who is out there and who needs what services." Partnering with schools, private agencies and healthcare facilities can help identify the population.

Consider hiring certified therapeutic recreation specialists as consultants rather than full-time staff. Utilizing their expertise extends beyond designing programs but also can help educate current staff on why therapeutic recreation is important and the many different types of disabilities, including some that people may not be aware of.

Programs may also be eligible for grant support or other public funding. Cincinnati's accessible golf program is run through grant money from the U.S. Golf Association. It has also partnered with the U.S. Tennis Association for its wheelchair tennis program.

The best first step is to learn from others' experience. Reach out to others with successful therapeutic recreation programs and ask what your best next step should be. As King said, "I'm not a big believer in reinventing the wheel. Check in with other organizations."

Type "therapeutic recreation" into Google, and you'll find several parks and recreation departments around the country. As Kazin mentioned, Cincinnati's program has been around for 40 years; Montgomery County started therapeutic recreation services in 1968; and San Diego has been offering therapeutic recreation for more than 35 years.