Dave Lewis, OTD
Spotlight: National Inclusion Project
Throughout my research into inclusion and accessibility in the outdoors and camps, one organization that continually stood out is the National Inclusion Project (NIP).
National Inclusion Project's mission is simple:
"EVERY child can participate, EVERY child can make a friend and EVERY child can succeed."
These values align with the core values inherent to occupational therapy, and as I envision them relating to outdoor and camp experiences for youth of all abilities. The more I researched National Inclusion Project, the more I learned just how valuable NIP is to the inclusive community, especially in the outdoors and in camps!
National Inclusion Project works to make the inclusion of children with disabilities the expectation, not the exception.
NIP provides trainings, tools, and support to community organizations and recreational programs so children with disabilities can be included in all of their activities and programs. The Standards For Inclusive Recreation Programs outline best practices for inclusive recreation, and serve as the foundation for all NIP training resources and accreditations. These Standards include information on administration, facilities, staging, programming, evaluation, and other resources. NIP further boasts customizable training for frontline staff, leadership staff, executive boards, and more.
In the spring of 2020, Aron Hall, Director of Education and Training for National Inclusion Project and co-author of "The Power of the Inclusive Camp Experience" was gracious enough to answer some interview questions related to the material that would soon become Access Outdoors Occupational Therapy. With his permission, that interview is posted to provide more insight into National Inclusion Project, developing inclusion and accessibility in the outdoors and camps, and roles occupational therapists can take in these settings.
1. Tell me a little about National Inclusion Project and what the organization hopes to achieve.
"We opened up shop in 2003 looking to support inclusive endeavors mainly in out-of-school-time settings. We begin program development in 2004, and in 2008, we rolled out our Let's ALL Play program which provided recreational programs the framework and training to support including children with disabilities. Over the last 3 years, we have worked to develop a list of standards to provide a definitive list of what makes for a quality inclusion program. We have rolled those out along with an accreditation process that will validate programs as they advance in inclusion."
2. What areas of inclusion are addressed by the National Inclusion Project?
"We mainly focus on the inclusion of preschool and school-age children into out-of-school-time programs like summer camps, after school, and community-based programs. Our trainings and conferences have included people from a wide-range of professional backgrounds including teachers, therapists, IT, etc."
3. In what ways does the National Inclusion Project promote inclusion in outdoor recreation and at camps?
"We have put forth our standards for any program to use to make inclusion effective in their organization. We speak at conferences, we train in a variety of locations, and we run our own conferences and trainings. We have written several published articles detailing the benefits of doing inclusion well."
4. In what ways can a residential summer camp help promote an inclusive environment and programs?
"Be upfront about it and make it part of the overall culture. Leadership buy-in is extremely important so that when staff are making it happen and trying new things, they know they will be supported. Make inclusive language part of all advertising to the community and a part of all hiring documents (job descriptions, applications, interview questions, etc.)."
"Communicate that because they are embracing an inclusion philosophy that everyone at camp will benefit."
5. What aspects of creating inclusive environments are the most challenging?
"This is really a program by program question, but in general, most people are not against inclusion. The challenge is helping young staff who are new and veteran staff who may never have been asked to take on inclusion as a job responsibility to understand their role and empowering them to make a difference through inclusion."
6. What other resources are available for camps and outdoor recreation programs seeking to become more inclusive?
"There are many trainings available through us and other organizations. There are obviously things like YouTube and other online resources. We've found that other camps who are a little further down the road on the inclusion journey are also a valuable resource."
7. How can camp staff work with parents to ensure the camp is best prepared for meeting the needs of various populations? (i.e. inclusive intake forms, application interviews, etc.)
"Setting the tone early that the camp staff will work with families in a cohesive manner is imperative. Many families will understandably be apprehensive about your motive and ability based on their many experiences prior to coming to your program. Opening up lines of communication, showcasing flexibility and empathy, and inviting families to see your program are all ways to prep them in the most effective way possible."
8. What, if any, guidelines are available for creating inclusive environments within the various camp facilities (cabins, horseback riding, high ropes courses, archery, swimming pool, hiking trails, canoes, garden)?
"For facilities, there is obviously the ADA which sets the foundation for accessibility. We've found that accessible doesn't always mean inclusive. There are our standards which would also help. For specific things like trails and canoes, there may not be specific guidelines so it would be up to the camp professionals to make the calls so that everyone could be included in those activities."
9. What types of professionals have you worked with through National Inclusion Project?
"We have worked with inclusion facilitators/coordinators, camp directors, executive directors, other administrative staff, and frontline camp counselors."
10. Have you ever worked with an occupational therapist on an inclusion project?
"No, not specifically for a project although there have been a couple of OT's that served as inclusion facilitators/coordinators."
11. Is there any other information or resources that may be useful for someone hoping to work with a camp to create a more inclusive environment?
"BE PATIENT!!! You're not going to get everything right the first time. If you will maintain a growth mindset, you will find the learning and growing and improving prove to be some of the most satisfying things you will do in a career."
12. Is it okay to reach back out in the near future to discuss my project as it continues to develop?
I'd like to thank Aron again for his time and insights. Click here to learn more about National Inclusion Project and the tremendous work they're doing to improve inclusion.