Feature Article - February 2018
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Looking Beyond Physical Limits

Creating Inclusive Environments & Programming for People With Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities

By Chris Gelbach


Event Accommodations

At specific events, a variety of simple and low-cost accommodations can help participants with various intellectual and developmental disabilities have a more enjoyable experience. In Minneapolis, Chua cited the department's success using calming boxes at events and programs as one example.

"The boxes are mobile and you can even use a fishing tackle box," Chua said. "It just might include a few things that provide sensory stimulation for someone who might be on the autism spectrum or just someone who needs to take a timeout." These items could include some silly putty or slime they can manipulate in their hands, a soft ball with rubber spikes on it, or other similar items that can provide some sensory stimulation to help calm them down.

Expanding on the idea, the park district got a grant from NRPA to start implementing a 10-by-10-foot calming tent that serves as a quiet space where people can retreat during an event. The spaces will include amenities such as a trampoline, swing chair and bean bags to give people a chance to calm down when they need to before heading back to the event. "That's such a huge part of events and programs—offering places and ways for people to take a break and de-escalate if they do find themselves getting overwhelmed," Chua said.

Whether it's for patrons on the autism spectrum or those with sensory disorders, the department has also focused on trying to make the events consistent in their timing, setup and execution. "For example, our movies and music series happens every single day of the summer," Chua said. "So having it be the same schedule, the same type of announcements, brings a predictability to it and people know what's going to happen."

To accommodate people who have disabilities that make them sensitive to loud sound, amplification is kept below a certain decibel level, and people are informed of that before the event.

Funding for Inclusion

In addition to fostering understanding and better programming, partnering with various organizations can also lead to funding opportunities. "To partner with organizations locally that serve people in several different communities, whether it be a hard-of-hearing community or the autism spectrum community, has helped us because they've helped to provide training, resources and even funding in some cases," Chua said.

In Portland, the AIR program has grown on a fee-for-service basis without grants, with the exception of funding for a community living program for seniors with developmental disabilities that is funded by the state.

For costlier initiatives, it may be better to focus on realizing a vision rather than hitting a budget number. "If you start with a budget in mind, you can be limiting yourself in what you end up with," McConkey said. "The reality is that if they are embarking on a project that's going to serve a wider range of this broad base of people with disabilities, the funding comes from non-traditional sources." Instead of civic funding, for instance, support could come from foundations, grants, private contributions and in-kind contributions. "We've seen in community after community that funding comes out of the woodwork and they are able to achieve their vision, even though it seems monumental in the beginning," McConkey said.

But the larger vision is not about a single project, and making strides toward realizing a community that is more inclusive for all can start with a single step. "It's really just starting somewhere. Choosing one thing, seeing how it goes. If it goes well, continuing that and building upon it," Chua said. "But the more I learn and the more events and programs we do, the more I realize there's still a long way to go in making sure that we're designing things that are as accessible as they can be for the greatest number of people."