Inclusive play is primarily about all children and young people having equal access to – and equal participation in – local play, childcare, and leisure opportunities. It is important to remember these principles of inclusion apply to children/youth of all abilities, ethnic backgrounds, and ages. (google)
My name is Bill Muloin Manager of Community Inclusion and Support Services at Manitoba Possible. I have been asked to provide an article looking at the topic of breaking down barriers so individuals can encounter full and equal participation in recreation, leisure and sport.
During my time at Manitoba Possible I have met several individuals who only knew segregated recreation. Participating in community recreation was not a welcoming or accepting experience. Adaptations were not possible; volunteer coaches did not have experience on how to accommodate, and the attitude that someone with a disability can participate with peers without a disability in a sport/ recreational pursuit was met with skepticism. As a result, large numbers of individuals with disabilities either found segregated sports such as wheelchair basketball or did not participate at all.
Over the last decade, I have been involved in a movement towards full and equal participation. I carry the belief individuals of all abilities should have the same opportunities to access community recreation as you and I have. After all community recreation is for the Community and geared towards play and making friends. However, over the years I am continually shocked at how slow progress moves.
Yes, all the correct language is being used, doorways have push buttons, some community centres are more progressive, and curbs have been lowered. However, a move towards inclusive play still has room to improve.
For instance, I had to intervene on behalf of a child who wanted to play community club soccer with his brother. The young athlete wanted to play without his prosthetic leg. He felt he was faster with one leg and his crutches. Unfortunately, when he showed up for his first game he was told in front of his family and teammates that he was not allowed to play. It took a letter from myself to the Manitoba Soccer Association to re-instate the young man and allow him to play with his preferred physical ability.
Image how this 10-year-old felt when he was told he could not participate because he was not like the other kids (having 1 leg while others had 2). Or how the decision validated some perceptions people have regarding people with disabilities. Attitude and a lack of awareness can be larger obstacles than physical barriers. Fortunately, my intervention removed this barrier, and the athlete is playing alongside his brother just like he wanted. This is just one of several situations I encountered over the years.
Nevertheless, the seeds of inclusion have taken root and I am starting to see strong growth in schools, recreation centres and the governing sports bodies. People are starting to understand play and recreation are beneficial for all people; however, how many recreational players are going to move to the elite level? Based on numerous studies, very few. As result, there is a rising tide towards making our community recreation more inclusive.
For instance, before COVID, Football Manitoba welcomed a young man with a disability onto a team as a placekicker. This opportunity was the first time a person with a physical disability would play football in the league. However, the bigger piece I see is the progress in is people’s attitudes. Winning vs losing is being replaced by having fun, participating, and staying active for life.
We need to accept people for who they are, what they can do, and to support each other. As a reference to the title, I JUST WANT TO PLAY is a message that all people share regardless of ethnic background, age, gender, and disability and have a right to access. We just need to break the attitudinal barrier of acceptance.
Manager Community Inclusion and Support Services.