Extracurricular fitness and leisure programming for individuals with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) extends the rights of individuals with disabilities to include programs sponsored by private agencies. Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act (PL 93-112) already guarantees accessibility of these individuals to public agencies receiving federal support. This includes those programs which offer recreational opportunities to individuals in both public and private sectors. However, it is too early to tell what effect ADA legislation is having on improving recreational opportunities for citizens with disabilities. In the meantime, the State of Florida has implemented a program designed to provide fitness and leisure opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Perfect Harmony is an adapted physical fitness and leisure activity program, designed for persons with disabilities. Funding provided by the State of Florida, Department of Education, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), has made it possible for Perfect Harmony to become a model for the state, and hopefully, the country.
About the Program
At present, Perfect Harmony is located at two sites in Florida. The program at Florida State University (Tallahassee) utilizes facilities and equipment supplied by the University, and in addition, takes advantage of the multitude of student volunteers on campus. The Hernando County site, located in Brooksville, is set up somewhat differently. Various program components are located at several sites within the county. The base program occupies the gymnasium at a local middle school. The swimming component is offered at the YMCA, which also provides its facilities for other program uses. The Community Enrichment Center plays host to arts and crafts activities, in addition to serving as an exercise center for the program's older adults.
Both sites offer opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate in fitness and leisure activities otherwise unavailable within the respective communities. The majority of program participants come from the local school system and are students who are typically excluded from most extracurricular activities offered by their schools. While other students participate in athletics, intramurals, club activities, and other school programs, most students with a disability are either bused to custodial care centers or sent home to perpetuate already sedentary lifestyles. Perfect Harmony aims to provide an alternative for students by providing opportunities to participate in a variety of fitness and leisure activities, adapted to meet individual needs.
Goals of the Program
Goals and objectives of any program must be realistic and offer a reasonable opportunity for attainment. Goals adopted by Perfect Harmony reflect a sincere and honest attempt to enhance overall quality of life for each participant, and additionally represent the quest for equity of services for its population.
Specific goals of Perfect Harmony are:
* Increase physical, social, and recreational capabilities in each participant.
* Enhance levels of physical fitness in each student, including muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, agility, and coordination.
* Develop leisure time competencies in each participant that lead to initiating additional activities independent of the program, as well as maintaining achieved levels of motor proficiency and physical fitness for lifetime participation.
* Enhance self-concept and promote confidence in physical and leisure capabilities of each participant.
* Assist in developing skills to compensate for limitations experienced as a result of their disabilities.
* Serve as a resource to parents for providing social, recreational, and leisure opportunities for their children, and provide training to parents to enable follow-up instruction in the home.
* Develop a network of resources for each participant which enables life-long participation in appropriate physical fitness, leisure, and recreational activities.
* Promote opportunities in the least restrictive environment through providing age-appropriate extracurricular activities.
To determine if goals of Perfect Harmony are being met, specific evaluation procedures have been adopted and implemented.
Student Evaluation. All students are evaluated as to entry level performance capabilities before initiating the program. Skill levels in motor and physical fitness are assessed and activity prescriptions developed by program instructors. Pre to post program changes are measured to assist in future planning of activities for each student.
Personnel Training Evaluation. All program personnel--parents, instructional aides, teachers, peer tutors, and volunteers--participate in an instructional training program. The personnel are then evaluated on the basis of knowledge of disabilities, instructional methodologies, and understanding of fitness and motor skills appropriate for students with disabilities Ongoing monitoring of personnel by project coordinators attempts to ensure that program goals are being met.
Parental Evaluation. Parents are asked to complete a questionnaire which documents their perceptions of the impact Perfect Harmony is having on their children. Questions of parental involvement in physical activities, student involvement in homebased physical activities, and total family involvement in related community activities are assessed.
While these goals represent realism to the staff, they may symbolize fulfillment of a dream for some individuals with disabilities...being able to get into a swimming pool, attend a dance or play with other children may be something the child with disabilities wonders about but never really thought would actually occur. While reality may represent the real world to practioners, it may also serve as the dream world for students with disabilities. What these children want more than anything is to have opportunities to do some of the things their fellow classmates do on a regular basis. More than anything, this is the goal Perfect Harmony hopes to achieve.
Activities included in the Perfect Harmony program fall mostly within the realm of motor therapy, physical fitness, and leisure. Emphasis is placed on providing opportunities to participate in activities which portend greatest future success for the student. Selection of activities is based upon entry level assessment information. For young students in the program, instructors focus on improving developmental abilities which may lead to enhanced play experiences or lay important groundwork for developing basic motor and fitness skill areas. Additionally, a social component is offered through the program which assists in the socialization of the student into the community. Each of these areas is discussed further in sections to follow. Specific program activities are listed in Table 1.
Developmental. Activities which fall within this category are those which assist the student in learning basic skills which facilitate acquiring more complex skills. Activities designed to improve balance, fine motor proficiency, postural control, coordination, and manipulative behaviors are incorporated into programs for students who evidence deficiencies in these areas.
Physical Fitness. Attaining appropriate levels of physical fitness is important for everyone, and is especially important for individuals with disabilities. Program staff concentrates on identifying fitness areas which appear weak in the student and developing a prescription to ameliorate those weaknesses. Major categories of fitness activities included are flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, and muscular endurance. In addition, students are provided with instruction and counseling designed to facilitate weight control and enhance body composition. Great importance is placed on recognizing fitness activities which can be conducted at home, as well as at various program sites, and then helping the student develop an individual exercise program.
Leisure. The leisure component of Perfect Harmony stresses activities which can be accessed within the community, as well as during participation in the program. A leisurely walk or roll through the park, a game of chess or checkers, or even a visit to the local skating rink can all be achieved by individuals with disabilities if given the opportunity. What is most important is demonstrating the importance of leisure activities to parents or guardians of students in the program so they can facilitate this type of participation. Arts and crafts play a crucial role in the curriculum. Students not only learn to accomplish various tasks which place into operation manipulative skills, but enjoy the social benefits which accompany this type of activity. Students are also encouraged to participate in community recreation events. Recreational swimming, team sports, individual and dual games and activities can be instrumental in helping to integrate students with disabilities into the community, and in doing so, help to achieve one of the program's most important goals. [TABULAR DATA OMITTED]
Social. Socialization of students with disabilities into the mainstream should underlie all planning which goes into a program such as Perfect Harmony. Activities and events coordinated by parents, guardians, and volunteers help to accomplish this goal. Friday night dances, Saturday morning bowling leagues, participating in community sponsored events, and simple contact each student receives while working with his or her buddy, who is a friend or another student's brother or sister, improves social experiences of each student in the program. Enhancing social opportunities for students with disabilities, in conjunction with successes experienced in other program activities make it possible for these children and young adults to start tunities for participants of the program as possible and in so doing, hopes that these opportunities continue outside the program.
Getting the Message Out
As part of the grant awarded to Perfect Harmony by the State of Florida Department of Education, project staff is required to implement the program in various satellite sites around the state. To date, awareness presentations have been given in more than 30 Florida counties, as well as in cities in other eastern states. Awareness is an important component of the project. The purpose of awareness presentations is to educate appropriate school and community administrators about Perfect Harmony and discuss how it could be implemented in their districts.
Information is provided with regard to goals of the program, identifying students to be served, potential resources for funding, and other pertinent details necessary for establishing the program. Once it has been determined that a district will adopt the program, project staff sets up a training program for individuals identified to staff the program. Training is provided in how to get the program started, nature and needs of various disabilities to be served; specific games, fitness, and leisure activities to be included in the program; recruiting and training volunteers; and modifying the program to meet the needs of each individual community. In addition, a skit entitled You Can Make it Happen was written to be performed for all students within each school so that they can learn about Perfect Harmony and possibly volunteer to serve as buddies for the program.
Developing and maintaining the physical, mental, psychological, and social well-being of humankind through participation in fitness and leisure activities are important parts of life. These needs are no less important, and probably more so, in the population of individuals with disabilities. It is for this reason that Perfect Harmony was developed.