Thank you to Kelly Bonner with NCHPAD for today's guest blog.
As participation in afterschool programs has increased, the unmet demand for afterschool activities continues to rise. Almost 20 million more youth would participate in such programs than do now if more and appropriate programs were available (1).This holds true for youth with disability as well. However, this population may face more barriers accessing and participating in after school programs. Such barriers include inaccessible programs, lack of transportation and insufficient teacher preparation (2).
I can hear you thinking, “Well, that’s not a problem for us because we don’t have any kids with disability.”
With 5.2 million youth with disability in the U.S. the reason probably isn’t because they do not exist in your area; more likely it is because they may not know you exist, or feel welcomed and equal in the environment you are providing?
Providing programs for kids with disability is required by law. But including kids with disability from the start does not have to be as difficult as most think. Here are three steps to help.
1. Make sure all of your marketing materials are inclusive.
For example, if you feature an image of kids participating in your activities on your flyer, make sure the picture includes a kid or kids with disability. Doing this will assure potential participants with disability and their parents and caregivers that the program truly is inclusive of all who want to participate. They must be able to self-identify with your program, and marketing materials are an incredibly important component of that self-recognition. Verbiage is another aspect of marketing that you need to consider and address. Words or phrases like “kids of all ability levels” or “inclusive” are key when parents are trying to identify programs that are appropriate for their child. Parents typically have to fight to get their kids included in every other aspect of their lives. You may even want to consider adding contact information on your flyer or brochure for parents that have any questions about inclusion. Learn more about inclusive marketing here.
2. Make sure that your employees are well- trained before a child or parent with a disability walks through your doors.
Inclusion training should include multiple components, forefront among them disability awareness. First impressions are sometimes the greatest impressions; referring to a parent or child with a disability in the wrong way can make your staff seem unequipped to provide quality programs and services. Speaking to someone with a disability can be intimidating if you do not know what to say.
Ready for some strategies? Listen to Mary, a young girl with a disability, explain her top 10 tips for communicating with someone who has a disability.
3. Make sure your inclusive programs are just that: inclusive!
Programs do not need to be special or only exist on paper or in your mind because they cannot be implemented; they simply need to be built into the culture of what your program strives to achieve and represent. Every program offered should be accessible and inclusive to all kids who walk or roll through your doors in whatever manner works best for them. Be sure inclusive policies and programming are in play from day one so you are not caught off guard or have to change the integrity of your programs once someone with a disability joins. Here's more on inclusive out of school time and play.
Once your program is ready, take the pledge and Commit to Inclusion. This campaign will provide you with nine guidelines to help you ensure new and existing program initiatives and policies in the areas of physical activity, nutrition and obesity prevention are appropriate and accessible for people with a disability.
Kleinert, H. L., Miracle, S. A., & Sheppard-Jones, K. (2007). Including Students With Moderate and Severe Disabilities in Extracurricular and Community Recreation Activities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 39(6), 33-38.