DAPHNE, Ala. – Enthusiasm for inclusive recreation – the concept that recreation departments, schools, sports organizations and similar entities should offer programs for everyone, regardless of ability – is sweeping the nation, and professionals entering the recreational field must be prepared to meet this need.
“Professionals today in the field of recreation management must be prepared to address inclusion, and meet the needs of people of all abilities,” said Dr. Rodney Blackman, Chair of Recreation Management at the United States Sports Academy.
“Inclusive recreation services promote the idea that, if I walk a minute in someone else’s shoes, I will get something good out of it,” Blackman said.
“People are catching on that inclusive recreation makes the world a better place. Where before inclusivity may have been this backburner idea, now it is becoming a priority for recreation departments.”
Blackman said the Academy is responding to society’s evolving sensitivity by offering courses that teach students how to meet the recreational needs of all people. The courses are designed to increase awareness of, and sensitivity to, the recreation and leisure service needs of persons with disabilities. Specific attention is given to facility design geared for accommodation, as well as the programmatic and administrative strategies needed for successful and effective implementation of recreation and leisure services that seamlessly integrate persons with disabilities and persons without disabilities.
The Academy offers a graduate level course, “Inclusive Recreation Services,” which Blackman said helps master’s degree students in recreation management learn the primary themes and issues of inclusivity related to recreation. The Academy also offers a graduate level course, “Adaptive Athletics and Sports,” which is designed to raise awareness of the organizations, competitions and sports opportunities for athletes with disabilities. Students also examine coaching, training and event management for athletes with disabilities.
“Our students at the Academy learn about the necessities for inclusivity in recreation,” Blackman said. “They learn about disabilities, because all disabilities are unique and complex. They learn about different constraints on inclusivity. They learn about benefits of inclusivity, architectural barriers, environmental barriers and how to persuade people to think differently.”
Blackman is an expert in recreation management, having worked in academia since 1997 after years of work in the public and private sectors. Blackman’s education and professional experience have been primarily in the areas of leadership, management, marketing, programming, operations management, and administration – all in the context of sports, recreation, tourism, and leisure services delivery systems. His foremost area of expertise is in the legal aspects of sports, recreation, and leisure services.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in theology from the Master’s College in Los Angeles, his master’s degree in leisure services program management from the University of Northern Iowa and a Master of Legal Services degree equivalent from Indiana University School of Law. He earned his doctorate degree in recreation from Indiana University.
“Why is there such a thing as recreation, and why is it necessary? Is recreation more important than work? I would submit they are equally important,” Blackman said.
“We need restoration, and recreation is the mechanism that we use to get restoration. You work all day then you go home and that gives you restoration. You get an hour break for lunch in the middle of the day to be restored momentarily. Our bodies were not made to run ourselves into the ground. The things we design for restoration, we take them seriously.
“Inclusive recreation means recreation for all,” Blackman said. “The language we use and the requirements we have are different now. We are reconceiving the way we treat people and the way we talk about people who are different from us. A person with a disability is just a person with a disability. We are starting to pay attention to providing services for all of the different, cross-sectional segments of our population. Recreation departments that don’t have inclusive services will be left behind.”
Blackman said inclusivity in recreation is important because it is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public.
According to Blackman, there are types of accessibility that make for a truly inclusive program. The first is physical accessibility, examples of which are zero-depth entry and hydraulic lift chairs in swimming pools, curb cuts on public paths and voice activated elevator controls for the visually impaired.
“The thing about disabilities is that every one of them is unique,” Blackman said. “Every person with a disability is unique, even if they have the same kind of disability. They are unique because people are unique. So the adaptations and modifications that everyone is supposed to do have to meet the specific needs of a broad range of people.”
A second type of accessibility is program accessibility, which translates as recreation professionals working in municipalities or organizations modifying their programs to facilitate participation by persons of all abilities. As an example, Blackman said he once worked with a colleague who used a wheelchair. The pair would play tennis after work, and they adapted the rules to facilitate participation and create parity in the competition.
“He taught me so many things,” Blackman said. “We used playing tennis as a way to deepen our friendship, to enjoy our collegial relationship, and to better get to know one another. The focus was never on the game of tennis – or that we had to make rule changes so we could play – the focus was on us, as friends, just having fun, exercising, competing, and sharing good times. Often we’d go out and grab a bite to eat after, further investing in our friendship.”
Another way sports are becoming more inclusive is in the area of adaptive technologies, which means, effectively, using technological advances to better meet the needs of the disabled athlete. Perhaps the most famous example of an athlete using adaptive sport technology is Oscar Pistorius, the South African double-amputee sprinter dubbed the “Blade Runner.”
Today Pistorius is serving a six-year prison sentence for the 2013 shooting of his girlfriend. But before his legal troubles Pistorius, a multiple Paralympic gold medalist who used prosthetic “blades” to race in place of his lower legs, challenged an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rule that banned the use of “any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device.” After years of attempts to qualify for the, he became the first amputee runner to compete at an Olympic Games, where he raced in the 400 meters in 2012 in London.
“There’s a certain peculiarity to his case, but it was a seminal moment in the global consciousness of what it means to have a disability,” Blackman said. “They adjusted the program. They changed the rules, and that’s one way to make programs accessible.”
Blackman said that after the ADA became law in 1990, some recreation organizations met the new standards with a certain degree of backlash, which he says is rapidly fading.
Now, Blackman said sports organizations and recreation departments are some of the nation’s leaders in inclusive services.
“There is a shift in morality,” he said. “There are enough persons who need inclusive services that now it makes economic sense for organizations to make their buildings accessible.
“They know it is important that every person – regardless of ability – can recreate. That has been something the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and municipal recreation organizations around the country have been on the leading edge of. They know it needs to happen. It isn’t something that is going to happen overnight, but it is spreading.
“When the care of people is a priority, things change,” Blackman said.
The Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports.
The Academy is based in Daphne, Ala. For more information, call (251) 626-3303 or visit www.ussa.edu.