Ensuring Opportunities for All in Park Programs

April 1, 2014, Department, by Jayne Greenberg, Ph.D.

“I Can Do It, You Can Do It!” participants test out their sea legs at the 10-year anniversary celebration for “Anchors Away” at Oleta River State Parks in Miami, Florida.The ability for all Americans to engage in recreational and physical activity opportunities is incredibly important to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, but it’s especially important for youth and adults with disabilities. Participating in recreational physical activities enables people with disabilities to not only meet new friends, learn new skills and have fun, but also, disabled youth in particular gain the opportunity for integration and socialization into community-based activities through active park and recreation department programs.  

Research has shown that persons with disabilities are not as active as other Americans; however, there is greater need for regular physical activity and good nutrition to prevent obesity and other secondary conditions. Park and recreation agencies can help to ensure that children and adults with disabilities have equal access and opportunities to lead healthy, active lifestyles while achieving the recommended 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity as recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (2008). A park’s natural infrastructure encourages physical activity and allows for year-round programming, such as team and individual sports including goal ball, sled hockey and wheelchair basketball to name a few, as well as healthy eating classes and exercise groups. Outside of the school environment, parks are viable places for people with and without disabilities to be active while enjoying the great outdoors.

One model initiative that is highly recommended and can easily be implemented in environments including parks, schools, universities and community programs is the “I Can Do It, You Can Do It!” program. As a flagship program of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition (PCFSN), this unique program provides a host of age- and developmentally appropriate resources that can be adopted in any setting, and implemented to facilitate physical activity opportunities for youth and adults with disabilities in an inclusive environment. 

I Can Do It, You Can Do It! is an effective program that enables youth and adults with disabilities to enjoy activities in which they never imagined they could participate, like sailing and horseback riding. When implemented, monitored and paired with the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award Plus (PALA+), I Can Do It, You Can Do It! further motivates and rewards individuals with disabilities to be physically active on a daily basis.  

I Can Do It, You Can Do It! also encourages the establishment of community relationships that focus on expanding opportunities for people with physical, intellectual and sensory disabilities. NRPA members can develop partnerships with local community centers, schools, colleges, businesses, support organizations and volunteer groups to enhance access and opportunities for community members with disabilities to be active. The power of community partnerships is essential in transforming communities to promote physically active lifestyles for all.

In my role as coordinator of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ (M-DCPS) I Can Do It, You Can Do It! program, I am no stranger to the power of partnerships. Through a partnership with local and state parks, as well as other community stakeholders including the Coconut Grove Sailing Club and the Miami Yacht Club, “Anchors Away,” an innovative program designed to teach students with disabilities how to sail on their own while learning math, science and life skills, was established. Recently celebrating its 10th anniversary, and supported by members of the Aventura Marketing Council, who raised funds to purchase 37 access dinghies for M-DCPS, Anchors Away has provided thousands of children with autism and other physical and intellectual disabilities the opportunity to learn to sail. These students are free to feel, learn and be independent in an environment that has no barriers, boundaries or limitations. M-DCPS has also provided trainings that certify park department staff to teach sailing so they can assist in providing community-based opportunities as well.

The goal of I Can Do It, You Can Do It! is to increase the number of physical activity and nutrition opportunities for youth and adults with disabilities to lead healthy, active lifestyles where they live, learn, work and play. To accomplish this goal, PCFSN is calling on NRPA members, as well as stakeholders in schools and school districts, colleges and universities, and other community-based settings, to become I Can Do It, You Can Do It! advocates. I Can Do It, You Can Do It! advocates are stakeholders who currently have recreation or sports programs or would like to establish adapted or inclusive programming for youth and/or adults with disabilities. I Can Do It, You Can Do It! advocates also use their own communication channels and other infrastructure to amplify the availability of programs. 

Becoming an I Can Do It, You Can Do It! advocate has its benefits. Advocates gain use of the I Can Do It, You Can Do It! and PALA+ logos; a template press release, free orientation and training modules, feedback and assistance on implementing or establishing an inclusive or adapted program, and the PALA+ certificate featuring the signature of President Barack Obama or President’s Council Co-chairs, Drew Brees, Super Bowl winning quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, and Dominique Dawes, former Olympic gymnast.  

NRPA members, there is no better time to ensure your programs are best meeting the needs of every individual you serve. Send an email to learn more about becoming an I Can Do It, You Can Do It! advocate and request an application, or go online to see what First Lady Michelle Obama has to say about I Can Do It, You Can Do It!

Jayne Greenberg, Ph.D., is a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, the District Director of Physical Education and Health Literacy for Miami-Dade County Public Schools and an I Can Do It, You Can Do It! Advocate.