Feature Article - October 2010
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A Welcome Inclusion

Invisible Disabilities Get Hands-On Attention

By Kelli Anderson

All Aboard

For many recreation facilities and park districts, getting on board the ADA train can be a challenge. For those who have embraced the journey, however, they will tell you that training all the staff—not just a select few—is vital.

"All our staff is trained about ADA, not just our inclusion staff," said Alayne Kazin, service area coordinator for the division of therapeutic recreation in Cincinnati, one of the oldest inclusion programs in the country. "It becomes everyone's responsibility."

For the park district in Boulder, successful inclusion training begins with, well, inclusion. "First, our five access and inclusion staff [members] are not all in the same building," Fitzgerald explained. "Our goal is to integrate the special needs staff [with] the general staff so that the relationships are right there. In my opinion, it fosters inclusion so much more rather than just telling others what they have to do."

At staff meetings, for example, inclusion staff members take their turn among the regular staff to offer training in their area of knowledge, enabling a regular exchange of ideas. Whether giving teaching tips for a specific program—like gymnastics—or a general subject like implementing effective structure and its vital importance for kids with ADHD and high functioning autism—the inclusion staff is there to share the information with those who see them as a part of the team rather than an adjunct of the park district staff.

For the community in Las Vegas, successful inclusion in all of its programs is the result of visionary leadership that began in 1990. The city's Adaptive Recreation division today provides more than 100 hours of disability and sensitivity training to staff, participants, nonprofits and other municipalities each year.

"I think other park districts can learn that inclusion needs to be an organizational approach," said Lonny Zimmerman, CPRP and deputy director of leisure services for the city [of Las Vegas]. "It's not a program; it's a process. The environment has to be welcoming from top to bottom for individuals with disabilities."

Then, of course, there's the enviable special recreation association (SRA) model that's unique to Illinois.

"Senator Fawell passed legislation in 1969 and had an allocation of property taxes for special needs and set the groundwork for Illinois to have this. There are now 29 associations," said Carolyn Nagle, executive director of the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association (FVSRA) in Aurora, Ill. "With 4 cents per $100 on property taxes (but most districts are still at 2 cents), it is an economic way to provide inclusion as well as separate programs, funds for accessibility, access vehicles and more."

With the funds raised by the property taxes, special recreation associations are formed from which several communities will share services to benefit the special needs of those in their community. They can offer separate programs for those who need them, but also provide training and support for inclusion within the park districts for the many who prefer to participate in the general population.

"The FVSRA has 220,000 in its servicing population and they have 19 full-time employees," McGovern said. "Los Angeles County has 4 million and has one therapeutic recreation specialist employee. So, the model in Illinois is unlike anything in the U.S."