Feature Article - October 2007
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Play For All

Therapeutic Recreation Embraces All Abilities

By Dana Carman

Communication is key

Like most things in life, therapeutic recreation doesn't work without proper communication, and not just to the potential participants.

"The way to start out is to create a climate of acceptance," Kazin said. "We do disability awareness with our staff. We also started doing disability awareness with our community centers so that kids are the first group of people we talk to so that when a child with a disability enrolls in a program, they have awareness and a level of acceptance. The same thing is true of the staff."

As Heyne mentioned, those without disabilities may have a fear of the unknown in interacting with those with disabilities, which can be greatly reduced through inclusion. Programs may be reluctant to offer therapeutic recreation for the same reason. In Arlington County, inclusion is referred to as Access and Inclusion, and as part of that, the staff throughout the departments is educated on different topics relating to disability.

"We're increasing knowledge and comfort levels," King said. "We're making them feel comfortable to ask the questions they need to ask."

But communicating to the community that these services are offered is critical to success as well. It's especially important if you're in an area where these services have not previously existed. If parents of children or adults or guardians are not looking for them, they won't necessarily know to come to you. More, when you go so long without something, you stop looking.

"In six years of inclusion, we've gone from five or six kids to 100," Kazin said.

"If you build it, they will come."

Play nice

The reality is that regardless of disability, we all have abilities and strengths that differ from one another and the important thing is to recognize each other's abilities and not see only the disabilities. Everyone benefits from social interaction and recreation, not to mention physical activity, as obesity also affects the disabled population.

"Whether one has a disability or not, activities such as sports, dance, yoga and fitness workouts have tremendous physical benefit in terms of building strength, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance," Heyne said. "Art, music and theater programming can enhance self-expression, creativity and a sense of the aesthetic. Nature and wilderness programs can develop team-building, self-esteem and spiritual connection to the land. Board games, word puzzles or learning a language can build cognition …It is amazing to see how people with varying abilities grow and thrive in inclusive environments in which acceptance and support prevail."

In other words, recreation is good … for everyone.