As a program director, you are constantly putting the needs of others ahead of yourself in the summer months. You’re responsible for the physical and emotional safety of hundreds of kids each year. In order to give families the opportunity to have their child with special needs involved in more recreational programs, we must make the intentional choice to include all children, so that children with and without disabilities can participate together in activities that have tremendous extrinsic and intrinsic value.
Most programs that do not offer inclusive supports typically do not because they feel inadequate and unprepared. Many people feel that they have to be an “expert” to meet the needs of children with disabilities in a program. Once we understand that inclusion is not a place, a program or a time-limited opportunity – that it’s a state of being and a way of operating that says “all are welcome” – we can overcome the practical barriers of resources, knowledge and accessible facilities.
Inclusion is first and foremost a philosophy:
- A mindset and a belief that everyone has value and something to contribute
- A willingness to see the ability in everyone and match skill with challenge
- An understanding that we provide an opportunity to build relationships, learn who we are, and develop skills
- A commitment to the process of making our programs accessible – both physically and by ensuring that each person’s participation is meaningful
- The belief that all children can make friends, all children can participate, and all children can be successful
Here are some questions to think about as you consider becoming a Program Partner:
- Do you currently serve children and/or youth with differing abilities? How is this structured?
- What is your integration and inclusion philosophy?
- Does current staff have any experience working with children and/or youth with differing abilities?
- Do you have a subsidy program?
- Is your site accessible? (e.g., cabins, nursing station, washrooms, common areas, waterfront, customer service, website, employment/volunteer placement practices)
- Are there any other barriers to including participants? (e.g., age, “must be toilet trained to attend the Program”)
- What level of medical/nursing care can you provide?
- What is your return rate?
- What is your policy on sending children home?
- Is your leadership – E.D., CEO and Board of Directors – educated about this potential partnership? Are they on-board?
- What are your integration staff’s average salaries? Discuss the REACH funding/reimbursement model (50/50).
- Are you open to a “training” partnership only?
As a Leader, you play an important role in the journey to inclusion. It is organizational leadership that can change the policies and procedures that open doors for a diverse range of people. Leaders find resources to help make physical changes to facilities or provide needed training for staff. The commitment and support from Leadership like yours is critical and makes a powerful statement to the community at large that everyone is welcome.
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