by Torrie Dunlap, CPLP
Children with disabilities face many challenges in our world. Having access to the typical activities of childhood should not be one of them. Today, 20 years after President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, the most sweeping disability rights legislation to date, children with disabilities are still largely segregated in many communities. Inclusive opportunities in child care and recreation are still mostly unique exceptions and not the guarantee that the ADA was intended to pro¬vide. Parents who call a child or youth program still feel the need to ask if a child with a disability would be welcomed and supported.
Part of the problem is that the ADA is a law with no proactive enforcement mechanism. People who open childcare centers or recreation programs are not given an ADA handbook and explanation of their responsibility to serve all children with their business license. Moreover, societal attitudes toward disability still have a long way to go. People with disabilities face a lot of discrimination and lack of understanding, and people who provide child care and recreation report fear, lack of education/training, and lack of resources as reasons why they don’t believe they can serve children with disabilities in their setting.
“When people who work with children are provided the necessary professional development, they learn to make accommodations so that children with disabilities can successfully participate in the activity of their choosing.”
In my work with recreation, child development, and youth enrichment programs through the National Training Center on Inclusion at Kids Included Together, I have seen the difference that training makes in changing attitudes towards disability. When people who work with children are provided the necessary professional development, they learn to make accommodations so that children with disabilities can successfully participate in the activity of their choosing. They learn to better support the behavior of children in their program, leading to a reduction in disenrollment. They also learn to become more effective collaborators with a child’s family. Parents of children with disabilities report difficulty in staying employed when their child is struggling in a child care center. A good relationship between the parent and staff can create a pro-active strategy to provide accommodations and diminish the reactive phone calls to the parent to “please come pick their child up early.”
These skills transfer to their work with all children, regardless of ability, making the child care center, summer camp, recreation center, or arts program a place where diversity and respect for differences is valued. Children with and without disabilities benefit greatly from inclusive experiences, leading to a future where places like the National Training Center on Inclusion won’t need to exist, and diversity and inclusion is a natural part of life.
I believe that my work in promoting the inclusion of children with disabilities is important not only today, but also in creating a future where the percentage of people with disabilities in the labor force is not 21.9%, compared with 70.1% for persons without disabilities. I am working for children today so that they can experience the typical activities of childhood, and grow into a workforce that is truly representative of the people in our communities.
Torrie Dunlap is Director of the National Training Center on Inclusion, Kids Included Together (KIT). For more information visit http://www.kitonline.org.