#063 Inclusive Recreation with Lisa Drennan

#063 Inclusive Recreation with Lisa Drennan

You can listen to this podcast episode on iTunes or Spotify.

Have you ever approached a community rec program and nervously inquired whether your child with a disability was welcome to sign up?

I have.

Sometimes it goes well. Other times? Not so much.

lisa drennan

Lisa Drennan has had a 35-year career supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to be active and engaged within their community.

In 2014, she joined the South Shore YMCA as the first-ever Association Director of Inclusion, creating innovative programs and comprehensive staff trainings to build a culture of inclusion.  Lisa was appointed as the National Chairperson of the YUSA’s Diverse Abilities Working Group providing a platform of learning and sharing of best practices for Y’s across the country.

In 2018 Lisa started her own company, MERGE Diverse Abilities Inclusion Consulting where she provides consultation, staff training, and systems implementation to community entities committed to recreation, sport and social program inclusion.

Lisa and I talk about what it takes for community recreation programs to evolve towards inclusion and what you can do as a parent to move things along and increase the chances that your child will be welcomed and have a positive experience.

lisa drennan

Transcript

Genia:
Welcome and thank you so much for joining me on the Good Things in Life podcast. Today, I’m really excited to be speaking with Lisa Drennan. Lisa has a 35 year career supporting people with disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities to be active and engaged within their communities. In 2014, she joined the social YMCA as the first ever Association Director of Inclusion, creating innovative programs and comprehensive staff trainings to build a culture of inclusion within the YMCA. Now, Lisa runs her own company, MERGE Diverse Abilities Inclusion Consulting, where she provides consultation, staff training and systems implementation to community entities like recreation centers, YMCAs and other organizations committed to recreation, sports, and social program inclusion. Lisa, thank you so, so much for joining me today. I’m really excited about this.

Lisa:
It’s my pleasure and honor to be here and having this conversation with you.

Genia:
You know, we, it’s such an interesting thing, this balance when we’re going out and, you know, thinking about community roles and recreational roles for our kids with disabilities because oftentimes, we will get a pretty positive reception at the front desk. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into actually good inclusive opportunities. You know, sometimes we’re being sluiced into a special segregated programming. Other times, they’re just, we would love to, but we don’t have any resources to make this happen. You know, parents are often choosing specialized programming because specialized programming comes with the supports built-in even if that’s not maybe what they would want ideally. So I’m really glad to be having this conversation. This interview with you is the first time I’ve talked directly about this issue of community inclusion within recreation role. So, I’m super excited. I wanted to start by just asking you how you got into this? Like what is your history with people with disabilities and their families that led to this career path?

Lisa:
Absolutely. I actually started working within the field when I was 17 years old and I worked at New England village in Pembroke mass. It was a residential community for adults with developmental intellectual disabilities. And I worked my way up the ranks there. I was naturally always navigating towards or called towards recreation. It became, you know, somewhat of my passion endowed with the work that I did. I ended up being the recreation director there and then opened up the solar wellness center, which was the first of its kind. It was a, not just a building but programming design specifically in the building, specifically for this population. So, you know, universal design to the entire building and the programming. So my entire, you know, growing up in youth and then young adult life and into my adult life, I was really circled around this population in the roles of recreation.

Lisa:
What became apparent though was that it was around the same time, there was a big push and you know, for, to think about the folks that we supported out in the community. And I was kind of in a situation that was the opposite. We had a wellness center for this population, although the time there was just wonderful. And what I did learn was how do you teach a class, right? And this is what the instructors and I worked together to really develop. What was really important about the elements of teaching music or fitness or yoga or swim? So that everybody who’s in the class, you know, so the universal design teaching, but in recreation settings so that everybody participates and has meaningful participation. So that became a new driving force. And somewhat the reason why I ended up moving to the social YMCA and their roles.

Lisa:
So after years and years of working with this population with staff who were committed to helping folks with developmental and intellectual disabilities to engage meaningfully in recreation, it was such a wonderful next step for me to move to the Y. And my big eyeopener there was, now I’m working with a front desk staff, right? Membership staff, a camp counselor, lifeguard, zumba instructor, every single role in the Y, it was dawning on me that most were at the baseline level of comfort and understanding how to include in. And to your point, most people have a perception that, “Oh! Well, we do recreation. We have inclusion, recreation. We have a special needs program or adaptive program.” And what became apparent to me is that it opened my eyes to realizing it was important that the entire organization had a commitment to inclusion and not just we have a program or we have a staff who does inclusion.

Lisa:
That’s not inclusion if you’re just, that can be part of the, you know, part of the formula of offering, you know, inclusive programming or offerings. But it’s not the, it cannot be the end all. So my work at the Y, you know, what really, really struck me as being important moving forward is number one, the rest of the world is what I kind of say, sometimes, “the rest of the world”, or other people who do not have a background working with this population. They want to do better, they don’t know how. It’s not necessarily a path or it’s not taught in our general how to be a new zumba instructor, how to be a camp counselor. It’s, you know, just has always fallen upon people who were specialized in teaching that, that they would run a special class for these folks and not even thinking inclusively.

Lisa:
So the thought of really helping to educate and create trainings for all different levels, whether it’s, you know, someone who’s brand-new has no, you know, really starting with basics like language and correct language, then interactions and how to teach a class with, and then getting into marketing and promoting and how do we as an organizational change our systems so that we are more inclusive in every aspect of what we offer, not just we created a special needs program. And that became very apparent in, while I was at the Y, the Y USA, which is there, you know, governing association based out of Chicago who helps guide the entire YMCAs throughout the country, asked me to run a resource group for Y’s across the country. How do you do this or do you have a suggestion here? So, we ran trainings and webinars and Y was a resource for other Y’s to call me and ask me, you know, what would I do in this situation?

Lisa:
How do I develop this policy? And that was the moment that I said the entire world needs this. Not [inaudible] every rec program, every YMCA, church, library, anybody, you know, any type of art classes or programs that are out there for the community. It was, became very clear that most people want to learn more about how to become inclusive but don’t know-how. So that’s why I decided to go out on my own. And to my surprise, there’s not a lot of people like me doing this work helping an organization not to make, I’m not about making special needs or adaptive or specialized programming. I am all about taking your existing program or your existing organization or what you offer and helping you to determine what’s your inclusion initiative and how can you help your organization as a whole to be more inclusive in its practices. So that’s where MERGE came across. Two years ago I started and I love every bit of my work and the impact that it’s making on our communities. I feel like I work for the community.

Genia:
Right. Yeah. So how then, who’s calling you and hiring you?

Lisa:
Yeah, absolutely. So, mostly town recreation programs, YMCAs, boys and girls clubs. I’m connected with ACA, American Camp Association. So anybody that I meet at those, well, used to be conferences and events like that, but now it’ll be online, who run programs for children, teens and adults. It’s not, you know, a lot of my work is focused on programming for kids like camps, but yeah. So any type of camp or organization scouts, really, anybody that offers something for the community. I’ve recently been working with the public health programs for emergency preparedness and helping those teams to think more inclusively and how they would offer if there were, you know, a hurricane coming and everybody had a shelter in place. How can the staff and volunteers, they’ll be more mindful thinking about people with diverse abilities. So, so literally like I could work with anyone that offers something for the community.

Genia:
So with specific to the recreation, your recreation clients, what is the difference that you are seeing between a family’s experience with the organization before you’re working with them and the family’s experience farther down the journey?

Lisa:
Right. Yeah. So it is, it’s quite a journey and as you mentioned sometimes a program might come in and think that, “Well, we have inclusion because of its adaptive or whatnot.” So it does take time for an organization to really, you know, kind of shift, you know, it’s a ship going in one direction and it’s almost like it’s shifting to go into another direction. So it does take time. So when I work with a family and one of the strategies that I teach is that you have to think like a team and the family member is the leading person on that team. You are actually joining their team. So what is it that in every individual has to, you know, you have to look at every child or teen or adult as an individual. What’s going to help them to be successful, right?

Lisa:
So in this recreation setting, so you’re working with, what I try to teach is how you work with families and you, you know, if you’ve got say, let’s give an example, a camp director and the camp counselor would be involved perhaps someone, you know, family member who is wanting to engage their child in a traditional camp. And we would even be looking at team members like is there a counselor that would want to be that the child sees? Or do they have ABA hours that they could be observed in a setting? Things like that. You really want to take whatever the, whatever supports the child has in place at home and try to, you know, use those for your benefit to help the child to be successful in a camp setting. So mostly if it’s done well, what we see is a good pairing and partnership between the family member and the organization.

Lisa:
And there are going to be hurdles. There will be bumps in the road, but it’s how you deal with them. And that’s what I teach too, that there will be hurdles. But our philosophy and it’s a very simple mindset shift is to think instead of saying, you know, by call the council and said, “Oh, I have Amy. Is going to be a new camper. And here’s a little bit about Amy. A, B and C.” The counselor might right away go, “Oh, my goodness. We can’t …”, and start listing all the reasons why they can’t include in that child. And what I try to help an organization to have is what I call, you know, just switching that mindset to “what can we do”. So getting to yes or getting to success and knowing that it’s not a, you know, switch the button, open the doors and it’s going to be successful. It will take a little bit of time, but you have to work together as a team, family member, the of course, the camper camp leadership staff, camp counselor who’s working with them and anybody else who can add to the formula. What is going to help this child become successful in a camp setting in a meaningful way. And that’s what we’re looking for.

Genia:
So I’m imagining that when an organization brings you in to help with this, but that’s, to some degree it’s a leadership decision, not necessarily a hundred percent consensus or agreement or commitment from everybody on staff. And probably there’s a disconnect between the people who are hiring and paying you and, or not a disconnect, but a distance in roles between the people who are hiring you and the people that are actually implementing camp programs, for example. And I’m interested in your kind of insider perspective on the people who are resistant. Like why are they resistant? What are they resistant to? And then, I’d like to lead into what a family might be able to do about it if you’re not working with that organization. But I want to hear from your perspective like what are, why, yeah.

Lisa:
Let me share, you know, an example of, we’ll just say a generic YMCA, and they call me. Now, why is either going to call me? Because there was a situation, right? And it could be mandated or it could, you know, a parent was not happy or something happened. It’s going to be either for that reason or it’s going to be just internally that the staff are being proactive and seeing as a lot of need for, you know, “We just don’t have policies. We don’t know how to do this. We’re not educated. We don’t have trainings.” And so either way, no matter which way we come in, obviously the second one was more ideal, but to recognize that there is inclusion, whether training and supports needed, is a good first step. In both cases, there are going to be, there’s going to be resistance, right?

Lisa:
And it could be, I’m uneducated and don’t know, I’m afraid or, I don’t know what to do in this situation. So I’m just going to say, “No, we shouldn’t take these kids.’ The fear of, you know, legal issues, the fear of financial, “Oh, you know, if we become more inclusive, we are going to have to hire so many more staff and it’s going to financially hurt our organization.” And when, when I go in and I, you know, working with a group really, when we break it down, that’s not the case. And in fact, being fully inclusive can be more, make you more fiscally sound. You know, so you’re being proactive instead of waiting for an issue to come up that can really just halt everything that everybody’s, you know, working to face this issue because they don’t have inclusive policies in place.

Lisa:
So, my ideal working situation is when the request comes from above, right? So there’s organizational commitment in place. That’s my number one inclusion, it’s a principle that I have. That you have to have organizational commitment. So from your CEO, your board, your new director, those are the higher up making the decision that are doing it because they want to make a strategic plan in a change for the organization as a whole. And if that happens then underneath them are going to be the directors and they’re probably the camp director’s the one calling and saying, “Yeah, we need some help and we would like to be more inclusive in our practices.” And then you have to have the buy in. And the buy in, it can be, there can be a hurdle in the buy in at all levels.

Lisa:
But I think the education and training can really help it. It just would be a different approach. How I’m going to talk to, you know, a group of executives about why you should become more inclusive or how, or what commitment they need to make is very different than, you know, the boots on the ground counselor who’s, you know, 17 years old and is afraid that I don’t know how to work with this child. The answer is always going to be education, good communication and putting policies in place so it becomes sustainable and it becomes culture rather than a mandated “you have to take these kids”. It becomes culture. It just, it’s more about changing your system as opposed to just reacting to this one particular child and trying to figure out a way to make them work. If you change your system and that you have all your camp counselors are trained, then every camper is treated with the same inclusion strategies. So it becomes a systematic change rather than a, “Well, we’ll hire one-to-one aide for this child”, because that’s not really inclusion. You know, then there kind of off on their own with [inaudible]. What we want to do is teach everybody to be comfortable with all different types of learners and kids who experienced the world a little bit differently. So that’s my goal.

Genia:
So I want to, I want to ask you some low level questions, meaning like boots on the ground, questions, not, you know, principles. Although of course it’ll be based on your principles, but, so you’re a parent. You’re local YMCA, this is an example that somebody reached out to me about. The YMCA is really excited because they have an inclusive floor hockey program for kids with disabilities and kids without disabilities are invited to participate as well. And there are lots of volunteers, kids without disabilities volunteer to help and, you know, community volunteers are there to help. So there’s lots of support for people and everybody’s included. And, you know, they make sure that everybody gets to score a goal, you know, every time. And so, when the parent is approaching the YMCA, this floor hockey program just keeps getting pushed over and over and over again. And, they’re worried, the parent is worried because sometimes their son gets upset. And, you know, so might be, twofold worried that maybe floor hockey and having sticks is not the best program. But also not sure that any, there’s anywhere else in the Y where there is such a commitment to supporting kids to have a good, good time. So they’re looking for like a truly inclusive, typical opportunity. But this is the messaging and the conversation happening over and over again when they approach their Y, what do they do?

Lisa:
Right. So, and it’s unfortunate when you do build in, I’ll call that a specialized program or it’s somewhat of a unified. You know, there’s different types of ways that you offer programming. And the trouble that I find when I go into a Y and they have something like that, right? We have a special or adaptive for hockey and we have volunteers coming in or whatnot. Then that becomes, woof, we check that off the list. We’re inclusive. A parent comes in, “What do you have for?” “Floor hockey.” “Well, my son doesn’t like floor hockey. He’d like to swim.” “Oh, we don’t have programs like that in the swim.” And that’s where the education needs to come in, that the specialized programs should be created only as a stepping stone towards full inclusion. Right? So say there was a strong interest in floor hockey. And I’m going to assume that there is a typical floor hockey team 2, let’s just say that, right.

Genia:
I think in this situation there is.

Lisa:
Okay. So that would, that’s good. They should, they should be a stepping stone and it should be designed in such a way that it’s, we’re not focusing on, you know, that it’s a special needs program. It’s a program to help all different types of learners of learning field, floor hockey. How to be on a team, how to take a class, how to take turns. Just learning how to actually be part of a team. So that should be the focus so that they’re learning those skills to them be able to move on and be in the typical. It can’t be the end all. We can’t just say, “Well, we’re all covered. Floor hockey is what we offer.” Every aspect of the Y needs to be challenged on themselves on, so what if that this particular potential Y member doesn’t like floor hockey? They want to swim.

Lisa:
There needs to be the same type of approach of providing perhaps, it is specialized. I did a program with a couple of Y’s where we built an aquatics program and we had peers come in but the peers were not, and this is where the different, you have to be very careful with the peers. It can’t be, you know, having volunteers come in and then there’s, you know, the peers that volunteers are up here and we’re going to teach you or we’re going to be your friend for this one hour because that’s not, you know, it’s not going to be long-lasting or authentic. And that’s what I’m looking for, too, is that kind of like authentic experience for people who like swimming to get together. So the program that I did with the Y, it was designed to be like an entry-level program where the focus was on the work for peers that we did have to engage to come in.

Lisa:
But you have to give the training to the peers as well. They have to understand that they’re all coming in as equal. And we should have eight swimmers on the team, not for kids with disabilities, and then four peer mentors. There’s eight swimmers. The goal of that swim class is to learn how for those eight swimmers who all at different levels to be able to practice together. And that is, it’s helping to learn the skills on, “Oh, I have to wait my turn, I’ll listen to the coach.” We do laps, we watch our other teammate, we cheer them on. All those social skills about sharing and listening and being, that’s what you’re trying to teach. The next level up would be, you know, a little less, you know, just a little bit more support off on the sides. And then the third level would be for this swimmer to join a swim, a typical swim team.

Lisa:
And they’ve kind of had the experience and learned where a parent may say, “I’m a little nervous about just having my child jump into a typical swim.” That’s why you build those other programs. But there has to be, it has to be done with the right mindset. It can’t be focused on disability. It has to be focused on skills and learning and learning how to be on a team together, swim together, play floor hockey together. So those are different and it’s all just educating. Like I said, the volunteers would need to be go through a training and you have to be giving the right message of where you’re headed, where we would like to see the, these athletes go, right? And so you see team members as team members are not grouping. Even the way you line up for practice.

Lisa:
It shouldn’t be, well these four kids are over here, the special needs, and then they’re paired up with these four kids. It should be eight kids together, starting everybody lining up. And what naturally happens is the peers are lining up and then others are, you know, getting that modeling so that they see, “Oh, we have to line up now, everybody’s getting a stick.” And that would be more, you know, so you have to have it, you can’t have one program and then expect that every person who has a diverse ability is going to just go do floor hockey and then they’ve checked it off their list. It has to be universal across the entire Y.

Genia:
Right. Okay. So I have two thoughts on that. One is I’ve never been clear why when role modeling is one of the most effective forms of teaching, why we would have tiered programming instead of just putting supports into the typical programming that is going to have the actual baseline role modeling. So that’s always been something that, I’ve never seen it, I actually never seen it work well. You know, my experience is limited to my experience, but I’ve actually never seen it work well to have transitional programming. What I see is that places offer transitional programming and people stay in that transitional program forever. So that is just one thing I think for parents to consider is that if you can build a program was specialized supports, you can embed those supports into typical programming and they’re not, it’s not a different beast and it doesn’t get magically better if you build a special program. In fact, it tends to get magically worse.

Lisa:
They do have that, so if you have a specialized program and usually you’re putting a little bit more resources in it and there’s something you know, supports in place, usually the, to answer your question, that is typically driven from the family members, of their request or their fear of jumping right into a typical class.

Genia:
Yeah. Fair enough.

Lisa:
And that’s, it’s like you got to give and take a little bit. I would like to not see any of my ideal world is not to have any specialized or adaptive program. We’re not there yet and we have to do these baby steps. And my idea would be not to have to have those kind of ramped up programs to get, you know, have a kid work their way up to a typical [inaudible]. But mostly because the, maybe not having good experience or fear of how their child would be received in the class or how they would participate in the class or not. Or it could be overwhelming that if they can ease up most of that request is actually, in my experiences, come from the families. And once they find comfort and they can see, you know, if an organization is doing inclusion right or the, you know, they’re really advanced in their inclusive practices throughout the organization, then the trust is there and the families can, you know, kind of relax a little bit and know that, “Oh, all right, there’s a tennis program. I’m comfortable with my son or daughter joining in there.”

Lisa:
And so that’s mostly, you know, where we’d like to get right. And, unfortunately just going right to the finish line right away doesn’t work for a lot of families. Even they have perception issues most likely because I’ve had a bad experience and I get that and I understand it, but that’s where I tell the Y’s you have to, you know, kind of ease into some of this or perhaps have that program temporarily. But you cannot have it, you know, let’s say B, one-to-one ratio and then not, a family, “Of course it’s free and it’s one to one ratio. I want my kid to stay here forever.” And you know, sometimes we have to challenge the, you know, the athlete or the swimmer and the parent who they’re ready for. So we have to be using that language always, that we’re moving toward or we’re progressing toward.

Lisa:
And that’s just been my, I hope that it changes someday, but for right now, helping to get, you know, if you think of like Y staff, they could have hundreds of staff and to get them all trained and comfortable on that way. It just takes time. And sometimes the staff have to see, “Oh, I’ll go observe or see how the other aquatic staff interact in this class and I’ll be more comfortable when. Now that I see, it’s not a big deal. In my typical class on Wednesday nights. Yeah, sure. Absolutely. I’m more comfortable now inviting in kids with diverse ability.” So it’s, so it’s learning from both ends.

Genia:
Hi friends. When Lisa and I were finished with this interview, we immediately started talking about collaborating around, offering some additional resources and thinking about inclusive recreation, especially in this Covid time where there are so many closures. So Lisa and I decided that we would offer a workshop. The workshop is going to be on June 17th at 7:00 PM Eastern standard time and it’s called Inclusion Is Not Cancelled: Coping Strategies FOR ALL To Stay Socially Connected While Physically Distancing. And you can find out more information and register for that by going to goodthingsinlife.org/june17.

Genia:
Right. So let’s assume that the parent approaching the Y about the, the Y with the specialized hockey program, maybe afraid of, you know, full and true inclusion, but is feeling the fear and doing it anyways because they’re clear that segregated program doesn’t, programming, doesn’t actually have any superior things to offer and in fact tends to undermine development and opportunities for friendship. So, so when you were responding to my question about that, you’re responding around what the Y ought to do, but not necessarily about how the parent can get them to do it. Or like what the messaging, you know, what, so the parent is just having a meeting or sending an email or having a phone call and trying to appeal to the Y to consider providing some supports for full inclusion in their typical programming. What, what advice do you have for that parent?

Lisa:
Yeah. What can they do? So what I always say is that, you know, start at the level where you have the contact but then also go above as well. So perhaps you, there’s a, you know, recreation director who runs this program. Ask for, you know, some communication with them and the executive director or the branch director of that Y and have a sit down meeting. I always recommend, you know, for the families, I have a training that’s specifically on this, like how you can advocate or access community rec and the hurdles is part of it. So, you know, number one, making sure the right people, cause if you’re just talking to the rec director, they’re going to be like, “Oh I can’t do that. We don’t have the budget, we don’t have the money whatnot.”

Lisa:
But if you have both people in the room, I think the approach should be, you know, kind of spelling out what it might look like. But then also perhaps giving some recommendations. Cause if I’m sitting there and I’m the rec director, you know, the, you know, sport director and the executive director, they’re, you know, they’re actually going to start going up and going, “Oh this is going to cost me money and whatnot’. So we have to break down those barriers and say, “Can I share with you about a Y where it was successful” or “Can I share, you know, here’s a woman and they can give my phone number and you know, I would say I would gladly jump on a phone call or jump in a meeting about that.” It’s going to be about education and then the family giving the message that we’ll work with you. We’re not asking you to, you know, poof out overnight, create something that’s unrealistic.

Lisa:
We know that we have to work together but my son or daughter could really benefit from joining a typical class and here’s some of the things that are needed to do that. How can I help you? Right? So if you kind of make that approach as a parent, it’s going to go a lot further. Cause I’ve been on that other side, kind of seeing parents come in and you know, in my [inaudible] experience, be very demanding and almost like unreal, like not understanding the other side. And that’s what I try to tell the parents. You have to really understand what the Y’s are working with. They have to understand what you’re working with, too. And then you can come up with a solution together, but it can’t come in too heavy handed or you know, like kind of threatening like, “Well, you know, ADA and I’ve got this behind my back and we’re going to make it happen or force it to happen.”

Lisa:
I think just taking that teamwork approach is going to be the best approach for creating something. And you know what I say, if it’s a Y, cause I know this, I even recommend that if it is a YMCA that is, you know, maybe they say, “Well, we don’t have training and we don’t know how.” The Y USA has an entire division called, you know, the DNI or DIG actually, Diversity Inclusion Global. But it has an entire division that can help give supports to train.

Genia:
Those resources are there for that Y.

Lisa:
And that’s there, too. And you can kind of throw that out there that, you know, or just even trying to use the same language. “Oh, you know, at the Y, I see that you’re for all”, that is part of the YMCA’s, you know, their mission is to be for all. “How can I help you? How can we work together?” “Oh, I know an organization that does this or perhaps we can, I can show you, I can give you the name of, I heard somebody in, you know, such and such Y or a town rec program that does this successfully. Would you be willing to take a look at it? So that we can learn how to bring that here.” So that, that’s part of the solutions and doing that. And you know, the same would go for a town rec program, boys and girls club, whatnot. I know we’re talking about Y’s cause that’s where my familiarity is. But really any program will be the same. How can I help? Like as a parent, what could we do together? And that can feel daunting. Like, I’m not going to go build a program, but just opening it up in that way is, I know like sitting in those white chairs that that’s, you know, or their seats, they’re going to respond a lot better.

Lisa:
A good, I would say a good amount of like what hurdles going there in the way of the Y or we don’t know how or we’re not sure what this looks like, but if we take the teamwork approach, we can figure this out together. Right. You know, and also knowing that sometimes having other, if those families know three or four other youth in that age group that are interested as well, because one of the struggles of Y has is, you know, a parent will come up and say, “I’d like this type of program.” They go and build it, they promote it, they put all these efforts and resources and one child signs up. You know, that’s a little hard. So you want to try to, you know, see if there is another way to promote that, this opportunity, you know, a fully inclusive basketball league, like a real inclusion, not just special needs or a unified, but that this league is truly open for all. And we do have some ports in the way it’s run. Everybody’s welcome. So that it’s for all levels, like truly. Not, you know, a lot of, a lot of programs are like, “Oh. This program is for all.” But it’s really special needs with one person cause it’s somebody’s brother who came into play and that’s not the want to take their existing programs and give them the supports to welcome in all abilities.

Genia:
Yeah. I appreciate the collaborative, the message around the collaboration and how can I help. We’ve certainly found that to be successful. I’m certainly, I’m feeling, it’s almost like I can hear parents listening to this and just being, thinking like, “One more thing that I have to do? Seriously?” So I’m very conscious of that and sympathetic towards that. But we’ve found as you said, that just having the attitude of collaboration has been quite effective. So, my son, for the last several years has played both hockey and soccer in community league. Like just our municipal, well one was the municipal soccer league and then the other well, soccer associate, like whatever, like just the general soccer. And then a volunteer hockey organization. And our experiences of getting our son into the program were quite different. But there were some similar threads. One, we didn’t ask permission, we just filled out a form, like we just filled out the information form and you know, they’ve got two little lines on the little registration form for, you know, is there anything that we should know about your child and we’re like

Lisa:
Two lines.

Genia:
Two lines. And so, you know, we just wrote in he uses a wheelchair. And that prompted them to contact us and both times when we met with people, they were nervous. The attitudes were different, for sure, between the two organizations. But the things that were the same is that people were nervous. They were worried that they were going to offend me by asking questions. And they were worried that I was going to judge them and think that they were, you know, rejecting my son. And they were both preemptively concerned about things. And, but they were both ultimately willing to give it a try with a promise that I wasn’t going to, you know, I wasn’t going to be mean or yell at them or, you know, accuse them of not trying if it didn’t work out kind of thing. So, and then when they saw it happening, they’re like, ‘Oh, okay. That’s, it worked. That’s, that’s just fine.” Now it wasn’t, I’m not suggesting that there weren’t supports in place or that there wasn’t ongoing figuring things out. There was, but honestly, it was not terribly difficult. And one of the reasons why I think it wasn’t terribly difficult is because we didn’t make it a big deal when we presented it in the first place.

Lisa:
Right, right. I agree with that. And I think that, you know, disclosure is always the way. You maybe don’t lead with that, but you feel, you know what I would say to a parent, fill out the application, get to, you know, get in the door, but then make sure you disclose. You know, [inaudible] and your son’s in a wheelchair and be like, “Oh, did I forget to say that?” But you know, they should have the opportunity to present your son first.

Genia:
That’s exactly. Yeah.

Lisa:
[inaudible] sports to somebody who’s passionate about this or that. And then you know, everything that you, everything that you described is what I would, that’s a great scenario and a great example. And I, I guess not all, I would recognize that it doesn’t always work that way. And then what can you do? And that’s where, you know, you’re trying the collaborative approach, I always say disclose, you know, but also share about what’s great about your child. You know, often when the, tell us about your child and there’s a check box and you know, they just want you to write like, “Oh he’s allergic to bees” and you know.

Genia:
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Lisa:
[inaudible] ot expecting that. Right. Then they’re like, “Oh, here it is.” And you’re sharing about your child but also share about some positives. Or you know, like I’ve heard you say what makes them lovely, what makes them shine, right? What are their gifts? What are they proud of? In different things, what do they enjoy? Cause we often, you know, as parents, we miss saying that and all the organization is hearing is, you know, Oh this is a challenge. This is a lot. This is, Oh my goodness. But also say, you know, he’s an accomplished pianist. I don’t know, whatever it is that helps you to see your son as an individual, as a person and not just the kid who has a wheelchair.

Genia:
And one of the things that happened that was really powerful that speaks to that when we were at our meeting with the soccer people is that the person that was going to be supporting my son to play soccer is an elite athlete himself. And they were, so he was able to talk about my son’s participation on the team from the perspective of a team player. Like, like just the, that sort of, you know, they were saying, they were making suggestions about how modifications and things like that. And they weren’t, they weren’t great suggestions. Like they weren’t going to be helpful. They were going to be quite undermining. He was able to, Doug is his name. Doug was able to talk about how team spirit gets established and you know, why Will needed to be there at that very first game in that very first way.

Genia:
You know, those very first ways because that’s how teams get, that’s how team spirit and team identity gets established. And he’s talking to people who are soccer players. Like they get that. You know, they know that. And it also, you know, it speaks to that idea of like, what are we looking for here? We’re looking for the same, all the same things that you’re looking for when you enroll your kids in soccer, right. It’s about learning skills and camaraderie and teamwork and team spirit and all of those things. And so presenting our son in that way as a contributing, you know, as a contributing member of the team,

Lisa:
a valued member of the team,

Genia:
a valued member of the team, and then saying, so how, you know, so how are we going to, you know, facilitate that and make that happen is a lot less intimidating than if we had led with his health history, which is kind of what we’re trained as parents to do. Right. So tell me about your child? If you, it’s so common even in forums and con-, you know, two parents of kids with disabilities. Tell me, so tell me about your child? And they leave with the diagnosis. And we’ve been, it’s not a criticism. I mean we’ve been trained to do that. But it’s not necessarily, I think, well I think it is in fact not helpful when what you’re trying to do is figure out supports for a typical uninclusive opportunity. Well not. You still have to be transparent.

Lisa:
Absolutely. You have to be transparent. But I love what you just said about painting that picture of your son on the team. What does it look like with him on the team? How, you know, team spirit and camaraderie on the team, learning from each other. And I would, you know, soccer is a great example of you need to learn on the field where people’s strengths and you know, where they need to, you know, work together to help overcome their own personal challenges. You know, somebody may be able to kick a lot farther, some might be the cheerleader on the team, bring a really positive, you know, kind of like, let’s keep going guys. You know, so everybody has the different roles and strengths on that team. And that’s what it sounds like you did for your son. You painted that picture of how he would be a team member as opposed to painting the picture of like how are we going to deal with this in a situation [inaudible] and so on and so forth.

Genia:
All of these challenges.

Lisa:
So, I think that’s just a wonderful example of, you know, how you build that kind of picture, a narrative around what it would look like. It gives promise to, cause when you’re sitting there, you know, from the sports organization or wherever you’re sitting from that other perspective. And I spoke about this before, you’re just looking at everything that can go wrong rather than look at everything that can go right or how, what does this look like? Right? So that’s what you were very, you know, it sounds like successfully were able to do. And, and that’s what I really highly recommend, try to figure out, you know, here’s suggestions, solutions, here’s the path, here’s the vision of how we would, he or she would participate and be focused on that. Cause it’ll help lessen the anxiety of the sport organization. “Well, I’m nervous about this. What if we do this?”

Lisa:
And then the parent and you clearly said, “I’m not going to get mad at you and we’re going to work together to find the solution. I’m not going to, if you don’t do this right, the first practice, I’m getting a lawyer.” You know, that’s not, that’s not the approach to take. The approach is how can we work together? And you know what I like to say get to success or get to yes, that’s our end goal. What does that, what does yes or success look like? And for your son it was to be part of a team and to experience that first game together with other teammates. And you know, have the opportunity. And this is something really big for me too, to create a relationship, hopefully a friendship with another team member based on mutual interest or that you like each other’s personality. And that’s not going to happen in a specialized program that’s going to happen only in an authentic, inclusive environment where you know, you’re building opportunity and to thinking about opportunity, not just what can go wrong. So, you know, kudos to you. That is wonderful. Good story.

Genia:
So before we wrap this up, I want to shift gears slightly, same topic but slightly shift gears. And just right now we’re in the middle of a pandemic that has shut down recreation. So how has your work in inclusion changed during those crisis? And what, I just want to add to that, like what do you, what do you think is the most important and immediate need of our community right now around [inaudible] connectedness?

Lisa:
This is a tough one. And I don’t know what the answer is yet because I’m in the middle of trying to figure this out and I’m working with camp and you know, recreation professionals to determine, you know, I have, actually later today, I have a forum with rec professionals too, and it’s called Keeping Inclusion. You know, cause that I’m afraid that there’s just going to go to the wayside of a lot of organizations and many who we’ve worked so hard over the last couple of years. So what’s immediately in front of me that we may not know all the answers, but what we do need to be thinking about is not forgetting about our inclusive practices. When we start establishing, alright, there’ll be these protocols or these guidelines in place, are we thinking inclusively in making sure that, you know, our kids with diverse abilities are welcomed and that they’re engaged and successful in whatever this looks like?

Lisa:
But then from the parent’s perspective, boy, a lot of the same recommendations, you know, collaboratively and whatnot. But I do not want us to take, you know, three steps backwards from all this on all the movements of inclusion. So I think number one for a recreation providers to continue to be just thoughtful and again, we’ll figure it out together. What does participation look like if we still have to stay six feet apart? We’d be wearing a mask. And what if say child has sensitivity or you know, has some sensory processing issues and can’t wear a mask, how do we work that into the formula? All of those, you know, components about participation is, I don’t know what the answers are now, but I’m in the process of trying to figure that out. What does camp look like this summer? Would you rec programs is we are setting up for what the entire school year all day, right?

Lisa:
Whatever we end up doing this summer will be, you know, followed through and whatever recreation or activities that we have in the fall. So I continue to work on the, you know, it’s all about accessibility, making sure we’re reaching the families we’re inviting in, but then also giving our staff the same thing, the tools and the confidence to welcome and to engage and to support all of our campers or kiddos or whoever the group that you’re working with. A big concern of mine right now is loneliness and isolation, which we know for this population is a, it’s a huge issue anyways. And now I just fear that we’re going to be going, you know, again, backwards a little bit. The only thing I can draw from this, the silver lining is that perhaps this more empathy and understanding now that we have, you know, an entire, you know, globe or community that has now experiencing isolation and loneliness. Something that or, you know, population with disabilities experiences on a regular basis and continually, so hopefully there’s more empathy and understanding.

Lisa:
And, you know, as we’ve talked about before, I’m really pushing on social connectedness now. How do we make sure the kids aren’t just, you know, really becoming more isolated, more lonely and experiencing that. How do we help to keep social connectedness right now when camp hasn’t opened? And then when it opens up, how we’re making sure that all kiddos have an opportunity to [inaudible]? So I’m in the middle of trying to help sort out what that looks like. Never been here before. So, and I welcome any feedback and that’s how I’m going to help redirect or pivot my role is to really be listening to what a family is experiencing, then what are recreation providers experiencing, how do we make sure each other’s hearing each other. And you know, I’ll be recreating different trainings or learning opportunities to be able to address these current issues in front of us. So, [inaudible], like I’m just circled around, but some of it I don’t know yet, but we’ll figure it out.

Genia:
Yeah. Well I know you and I connected, both through a mutual friend, but also I think after you attended one of the workshops that I did. And anyway, my point being, you know, it’s, staying connected and addressing loneliness is, well, I think one of the most important priorities right now. Far above any of the developmental stuff, far above any of the, you know, school and home learning and any of that. I think that, you know, doing everything we can to stay connected and to address loneliness is a fundamental need. It’s way lower down on that, the hierarchy of needs where,

Lisa:
the needs about, yeah. The best, best, hierarchy

Genia:
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s funny cause I, yesterday was talking about Pavlov’s dogs and now that’s like stuck in my head. Anyway, so we, so if people are interested in thinking about staying connected and ending loneliness, there are some free resources available at goodthingsinlife.org/stayconnected. And how would people connect with you, Lisa, to hear about, you know, your work on this topic, and where you end up as you work through these issues with rec providers.

Lisa:
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s, and it’s constantly changing, but, you know, connect with me through my website, mergeconsulting.org. And I do need to update it with some of the more current trainings and offerings that I have. Or if, connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram. And by email’s probably the best direct route to get to me right away and I’ll just jump on the phone and have a conversation and say what can we be thinking about together, lisadrennan@mergeconsulting.org. I currently, I created a training specifically for these issues and it’s, you know, it kind of came from the Inclusion Is Not Cancelled mindset and it’s the top 10 coping strategies to keep social connectedness during physical distancing. So it’s a training that can be a webinar, one hour that can be offered if an organization wants to have it offered for their membership, for the community, for their staff, for families. I do have some free ones coming up. I try to offer them every couple of weeks just to offer that out to our community so somebody can connect with me and find out when the next one is. I’d be happy to have them join in on that.

Genia:
Awesome. Awesome. Well you and I will continue to think about how we can collaborate as well and I will make sure that all of those links are in the show notes for this episode so people will be able to connect easily with, with you. Lisa, thank you so, so much. This was a great conversation and really helpful. And I look forward to continuing our relationship and our collaboration. I’m really grateful for the work that you’re doing.

Lisa:
Same here. And, you know what I’ve been saying lately and it is so important to understand this. We’re all in this together. I can’t emphasize that enough that we need to be helping out each other and that’s what I’m here to either to connect families with rec organizations or just listen to both sides to try to create, you know, more information and valuable resources for either or families or rec providers on how we can keep social connectedness and keep all of our community members engaged and valued within their, the world. So thank you for the opportunity to share this.

Genia:
Wonderful. Thanks so much.

Lisa:
Okay. Take care.

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Special thanks to Lisa Drennan for joining me this week. Until next time!

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