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Marley Cunningham, the director of marketing for Aqua Creek Products, shares how to better serve everyone in your community by redefining inclusive community recreation.

Since the beginning of time, people have craved community. It’s the basis of the human experience. It transcends time and borders, provides strength in times of weakness and creates unity in times of celebration.

History makes it easy to see how recreation within communities has been ingrained in human nature. It’s in our DNA. And in 21st century America, communities are rich tapestries of many people, places and ideas. Living in a society of modern, morally intelligent people, the social responsibility lies on the shoulders of everyone to ensure there is equal opportunity for every single person. 

That’s why it’s so important community recreation programming is built for everyone and rooted with equity for people of all abilities. Oftentimes an overlooked demographic — at 41.1 million strong — people with disabilities represent one of the largest minority groups in the U.S. Because this group is also at a higher risk for health-related conditions, and nearly half of adults with disabilities get no physical activity, it stands to reason they could also see the most impactful benefits from programs provided by their local community recreation departments.   

So the question remains, why wouldn’t programming be inclusive? In a 2018 report from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) where agencies were surveyed on how they are currently meeting the needs of all members of their communities, results showed the biggest challenges were insufficient funding and inadequate staffing. Others reported a lack of support from the general public as well as local government leaders, while many felt their obstacles were insufficient training and a general lack of understanding of the community’s needs.

The solutions are not always simple, but they are attainable. A great way to understand how to better serve everyone in your community is to simply ask. Community-wide surveys are incredibly effective in providing a clear picture of who you are accommodating and how to increase participation by adjusting your programming accordingly. Funding and financing options are also available, and what is immediately available to you might depend on your area. Many organizations — like NRPA — offer grants for making your recreation areas more inclusive. Even the federal government offers tax incentives for efforts such as barrier removal. Many departments have had success partnering with other local entities such as schools, nonprofits, local law enforcement and healthcare services in fundraising efforts — another fun way to get people in your community involved. 

As the Americans with Disabilities Act celebrates its 32nd birthday, it’s important to reflect on all the milestones that have been achieved due to the persistence of so many who refused to back down. Simultaneously, it must be acknowledged we still have some time to go to create the long-deserved equity for the people of these communities. The journey to redefining community recreation cannot include a one-size-fits-all solution.

Marley Cunningham

Marley Cunningham is the director of marketing for Aqua Creek Products in Missoula, Montana. She can be reached at mc@aquacreek.com, or visit aquacreek.com. 

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