It was a school field trip. The entire student body was going to the local arena to enjoy ice skating and some holiday fun. I signed the consent for Eric to attend and I was excited for him; I knew that he would love it.
My happiness was soon crushed when I got a call from the school to let me know that he wouldn’t be allowed to go on the ice. The arena had a policy that required ice skates be worn for anyone who was on the ice. I understood that they didn’t want people walking or running and sliding around, at risk for falling or injury. But to not be allowed on the ice in a wheelchair, pushed by someone on skates, I couldn’t comprehend. I was crushed.
Before I was the parent of a child with a disability, I didn’t give much thought about inclusive recreation that would provide an opportunity for all people, regardless of age, income, ability, gender and so on. When I experienced exclusion with my son, I quickly became aware of why inclusive activities were important. Noone should ever feel left out.
It is encouraging to know that there are a lot of good ways to construct inclusive recreation programs and to facilitate social inclusion on behalf of all people. Many programs will have financial subsidies for people with low income, a mission statement that supports inclusion, physical accessibility, funding, staff training and universal design, to ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to participate.
There is one secret ingredient to ensure that no one is left behind is, a willingness to try. Instead of referring to a policy or letting fear get in the way, the commitment and readiness to make and effort is what makes the difference. Knowing that you are prepared to figure out a solution means a great deal to people who would be otherwise marginalized.
In my wildest dreams, I would never have thought that my son, who had severe physical and intellectual disabilities, could enjoy a gymnastics program; he had this opportunity because someone was willing to make it happen.
Do you have a story about how to build an inclusive recreation program? Please share so that others can learn from your example and be inspired to do the same.