Part of my job is to speak with recreation facilities to ask if they can accept a child into their program. This child is always the right age for the activity. He or she has the necessary skills to be successful. They want to participate. And they have a disability. My job is necessary due to a combination of many things. This child might be denied a spot because of an inflexible policy, a lack of funding for equipment or staff, a gap in knowledge on how to adapt the activity or program, or a misunderstanding of what a person can do – if given an opportunity. Sometimes, the answer is no.
Studies show that children who do not have a disability participate in a greater number and variety of activities, are more likely to take part in social activities with friends (rather than with family), and report enjoying their experience more than children who have a disability. Around 200,000 children in Canada have a disability, and each person has a different story about why this rings true for them.
Here is one story, from one person that I work with, about his experience: “Having a disability has greatly impacted my life. For 6 long years I could only think my thoughts but never share them, simply because I could not speak. This made me feel very sad, lonely and so different from everybody else. Even though a lot of people helped me, all I felt was just: I can’t speak; I can’t hang out with friends because that involves talking; I can’t have friends really; I can’t fit in; I am always the slowest in my class; I can’t go to summer camp or other programs like my brother or sister. Instead I see therapists and study inside. Kids pity me. I have a disability which keeps me away from so much, except for going to school.” Recreation is activity done for enjoyment, when one is not working or at school. Access to recreation is not equal; there are barriers that stop some people from enjoying the benefits of healthier lifestyles, increased self-esteem, and opportunities to build friendships with others. Children and youth with disabilities often do not experience the widening world of opportunity that comes from regular access to recreation in the same way as their typically developing peers.
Most of us agree that everyone should have equal access to reach their full potential in society, but the difference in opportunity continues to exist. To gain equity, we need to do more than acknowledge rights and pledge to treat people fairly. We need to make real efforts to address the discriminatory effects of policies and programs. We need to change the mindset which allows this reality to persist in our society. We need to work harder to make sure that everyone is included.
The next time you are given an opportunity to include someone with a disability, please consider how you can make that happen.
For assistance or more information, contact The Calgary Ability Network at 403 219 3606 or calgaryabilitynetwork.ca.
Community Engagement Coordinator