Feature Article - January 2013
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Programming: Inclusiveness

Mission Possible
Programming Inclusion for Hidden Disabilities

By Kelli Anderson

Training Staff

But experts most definitely do play an indispensible role, as does the training of all staff on a regular basis—and not just about the specifics of a disability, but about what it takes to create an environment where everyone can thrive. "We do a lot of training with our staff about what it means to create a welcoming environment in the camp groups," Golob said about the JCC's summer camps as one example, "and what it means for counselors who are employees, to be shadows because it is everyone's responsibility for all the children."

Staff also needs to be trained on a regular basis about the how-tos. "The first thing is vision, but the second thing is working with technique," Hall explained. "Techniques to battle those red flags are often just common sense. Treat others like you want to be treated. It boils down to kids with disabilities wanting to connect just like other kids. Helping them find peer relationships they can perform for and value. Those are the things that help them engage more and make better behavior choices. When we train, we don't focus on how to work with a disability, but how to work with people together."

As any one in the special needs industry will tell you, there is no one-size-fits-all in an approach to inclusion, and accommodations for success for each individual must be discovered one child at a time. As a result, accommodation doesn't always mean a shadow or buddy for a child is required for them to succeed. Success may be as simple as recognizing that they, along with their peers, need a moment to play before settling down for an after-school homework program. Or simply learning to avoid trigger topics they struggle to discuss.

For the families at the JCC in St. Paul, discovering those accommodations means bringing people to the table including parents, inclusion experts, occupational therapists and adaptive recreation professionals to name a few.

And because every state differs on the models they use for inclusion, some facilities will have inclusion staff at every site, while others will have one department that serves as a resource for all recreational facilities in their region. Regardless, training of all staff on a regular basis is still essential.

"I think that the most common roadblock is awareness and lack of education," Andersen said, admitting, "I know it's hard to train every full- and part-time staff."

However, Andersen also underscored the importance of regular group training on disabilities and sensitivity. In her organization, their goal is to do weekly updates for local park districts and she recommends using creative options like Googling a topic such as therapeutic recreation (TR) to find more resources or using YouTube and educational videos.

At the FVSRA, service staff receive two general inclusion trainings per year, one-on-one "buddies" get even more training, and the FVSRA step in to train new staff throughout the year as needed. In Eugene, Ore., training is a team approach, using a decentralized model where the inclusion manager coordinates and collaborates with supervisors to emphasize what training they want or to provide resources. Hiring a mentor or consultant from an agency is also a great way to take your inclusion awareness and practices to the next level.

Working closely with schools all year round and communicating with them to learn what strategies have worked in the classrooms for individual children, is a great way to transport success from one location to another.