Solving Organizational Barriers to Inclusion Using Education, Creativity, and
By Linda A. Heyne
Barriers to Inclusion
At Ithaca College, I teach a course on inclusive community leisure services
in which we devote one full week to a discussion of potential organizational
barriers to inclusion and how to overcome them. I begin the lesson by informing
the class that barriers to inclusion tend to fall in one of four categories:
attitudinal, administrative, architectural, and programmatic. I then ask the
students to work in small groups to enumerate all the potential obstacles to
inclusion they can imagine. Together, we generate long lists of possible barriers.
What follows are the most prevalent ones found in agencies:
Attitudinal barriers. Inclusion is a frame of mind as much
as a matter of practice, thus attitudinal barriers may be the most difficult
to overcome. Attitudinal blocks may take the form of misconceptions, stereotypes,
or labeling. A tradition of segregated recreation programs can set a pattern
that perpetuates isolation. If staff have little exposure to people with disabilities,
fear of the unknown may cause them to resist inclusive services. Further,
staff may not understand the concept of inclusion and what it represents in
terms of people’s rights and opportunities.
Administrative barriers. Agencies may lack outreach networks,
staff trained in inclusive practices, adequate transportation, and funding
for coordinated services and individual supports. Boards of directors and
administrators may not understand inclusion well enough to support it. Administrators
may also mistakenly presume that inclusion means complicated and expensive
Architectural barriers. Curb cuts, ramps, automatic door
openers, elevators, braille signage, telecommunication devices, and similar
accommodations (or the lack thereof) send a message that people with disabilities
are or are not welcome. While social inclusion is difficult when facilities
are physically inaccessible, it can be accomplished, and architectural barriers
should never be used as an excuse to deny participation.
Programmatic barriers. Serving people with varying abilities
may also raise programmatic concerns. There may be no single point of contact
for inclusive services. Program staff may not have accurate information about
disabilities nor experience teaching people with differing abilities. Staff
may not know how to provide inclusion supports such as individual needs assessments,
environmental inventories, behavioral teaching techniques, adaptations, or
specialized equipment. And the activities offered may not be a good match
for persons with some types of disabilities.
After my students identify potential barriers to inclusion, I again ask them
to work in small groups to brainstorm potential solutions. These young adults
preparing for careers in leisure services and therapeutic recreation prove time
and time again their creativity in generating fresh solutions to problems that
have impeded the progress of inclusion for decades. Below are some of their
ideas in relation to the four categories of barriers:
Attitudinal solutions. When it comes to changing attitudes,
one person can make a difference; when a recreation staff member has inclusive
attitudes and behaviors, other staff as well as participants will follow.
Among effective ways to demonstrate inclusive attitudes are challenging stereotypes
by speaking up when someone uses derogatory language toward a person with
a disability or persists in having low expectations, using “person first”
language (e.g. “people with disabilities” rather than “disabled
people”), and knowing and showing appropriate ways to interact with
people with varying abilities. Attitudinal change also comes about when individuals
participate in inclusive recreation programs from an early age; inclusion
then becomes a natural part of life for participants.
Administrative solutions. Employing individuals with disabilities
in administrative roles can be an important step toward removing administrative
barriers to inclusion. Educating staff and boards of directors about the meaning
and practices of inclusion, and enlisting their commitment to inclusive practices,
is also necessary. An advisory council can be organized to guide and monitor
inclusion, and recreation agencies can network with local disability advocacy
groups to publicize recreation programs and learn about supportive services
and funding opportunities.
Architectural solutions. When designing facilities, agencies
should plan in advance for use by people with mixed abilities, recognizing
that universal access supports use by all people (e.g. a ramp is handy for
those pushing baby strollers, hauling items, or wanting to take it easy on
their joints). Persons with disabilities should be involved in designing architectural
modifications to an existing structure to ensure that accommodations are functional.
Agencies can submit grant proposals to fund accommodations such as elevators,
ramps, paved pathways and lifts to bring an old building up to code.
Programmatic solutions. Hiring a certified therapeutic
recreation specialist or certified park and recreation professional provides
a trained recreation professional on staff who knows how to facilitate inclusion.
Training staff about disabilities and inclusion techniques, conducting personalized
assessments, and offering individualized instruction and accommodations for
participants also help remove programmatic barriers. Participants with disabilities,
or parents of children with disabilities, can suggest accommodations and provide
information on communication, positioning, behavior, and similar concerns.
How Agencies Can Support Inclusion
The positive results of this group work, and my own experience as an inclusion
facilitator and researcher, give credibility to the idea that agency personnel
can apply a similar problem-solving approach to the removal of inclusion barriers.
With this in mind, I propose a five-step approach that agencies can take to
Step One: Believe in inclusion. Understanding inclusion
as a heartfelt value is foremost in providing services that truly welcome
all members of the community. Inclusion implies that all people deserve respect,
appreciation, and acceptance. Inclusion also means everyone has the opportunity
to take part in community social and recreational offerings.
Step Two: Educate yourself about inclusion practices. Many
excellent materials on inclusive recreation are available today. In addition
to purchasing materials, agencies can invite an inclusion specialist to provide
training on inclusion principles and practices. Effective social inclusion
techniques include disability awareness orientations, peer partners, and cooperative
Step Three: Identify inclusion barriers. Each community’s
circumstances are unique, so it is important that people name the local barriers
that stand in the way of inclusion. An advisory council of participants, parents,
community members, and agency staff would be well-qualified to identify and
Step Four: Take a creative, problem-solving approach to generate
inclusion solutions. Approach each obstacle through a brainstorming
technique. Think creatively about potential solutions, and initially refrain
from criticizing anyone’s suggestion. Involve people with diverse perspectives,
and focus on possibilities. Consider how networking, teamwork, and collaboration
can move your initiative forward.
Step Five: Choose a solution and persevere until the barrier is
removed. Select the most effective and realistic solution to each
barrier, and develop a plan to implement it. Document your plan in writing,
set a timeframe, and identify the people responsible for getting tasks done.
Identifying specific outcomes – for example, scheduling staff training,
building a ramp, securing funding for interpreters, or paving pathways at
camp – will help you track successes.
The effort devoted to the removal of organizational barriers will be rewarded
many times over as people work together to support inclusion. People with varying
abilities will gain opportunities to live to their fullest potential, and each
member of the community will find a greater sense of understanding, value, and
Linda A. Heyne is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Therapeutic
Recreation and Leisure Studies, Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York. She may be
reached at 607/274-3050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Citation: Gaylord, V., Lieberman, L., Abery, B. & Lais, G. (Eds.). (2003). Impact: Feature Issue on Social Inclusion Through Recreation for Persons with Disabilities, 16(2) Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration. Available from http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/162.