The Three Ps of Inclusion

February 22, 2024, Feature, by Andrea Griffin, CTRS, CPRP, CPE, and Victoria Gonzalez, CTRS, CPRP, CPE

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How to implement inclusion philosophy, policy and practice at your agency

What is inclusion? If you polled individuals, looked it up online or asked ChatGPT, a variety of definitions and explanations would pop up. Ferris State University’s definition is one that resonates within the field of parks and recreation: “Inclusion is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized. An inclusive [setting] promotes and sustains a sense of belonging; it values and practices respect for the talents, beliefs, backgrounds, and ways of living of [everyone].”

Recreation prepares people for life in an integrated society and, just as importantly, prepares society to accept individual diversity. It is not enough for a park and recreation department or agency to say that they offer inclusive recreation opportunities. Inclusion needs to be embedded in the philosophies, policies and practices of the park and recreation department or agency. Inclusion is a process that takes place within the vast array of programs, camps, special events, open gyms, parks, and all other leisure and recreation opportunities.

When considering where to begin with inclusion, first take a look at “The Three Ps of Inclusion”: philosophy, policy and practice.


Recreation should be based on the belief and philosophy that all people have the right to access leisure and recreational opportunities in their lives. In other words, individuals have the right to choose who they recreate with, when they recreate and where they recreate. Identifying and creating an inclusion philosophy for your agency and staff will set the principles and belief system that support and sustain your agency’s overall approach to inclusion. Park and recreation agencies must have an inclusive philosophy that guides the “big picture” of their inclusion services. It is important that personal and agency philosophies on inclusion align. A personal philosophy consists of principles that influence your thoughts, words and actions.

When the philosophy of the staff and agency align, it allows for clear decision making by staff and a transparent commitment to inclusion that demonstrates the type of service the community can expect. The philosophy sets the tone for behaviors and attitudes that lead to policies that guide the principles and agency values regarding inclusion.


A policy is a written document outlining dedication to a specific topic. Inclusion policies outline how the recreation department or agency will implement the inclusion process and address specific procedures related to inclusion. The policies are a set of ideas and plans used to make decisions. More specifically, inclusion policies are a guide for staff to outline expectations and a guide for addressing individual situations. They will explain action plans for carrying out procedures and should be easily accessible and reviewed frequently. Specific policies on inclusion should include, but are not limited to, the following: funding, training of staff, staffing ratios, how to request and/or notify that inclusion assistance is needed, securing/creating/gathering assistance modifications, and evaluating assistance modifications.


When looking at inclusion, the focus should be on the physical location and the environment of the program and/or service(s), as well as the program and/or service(s) itself. Inclusion is not a “one-size-fits-all” practice. What works for one individual may not work for someone else. When implementing the inclusion process, you must get comfortable living in the “gray area,” as inclusion is not a definitive practice. The practice of inclusion is always evolving as park and recreation departments and agencies continuously look for ways to provide best and/or universal practices. Remember, the ADA is the baseline requirement. To reach best and/or universal practice, park and recreation departments and agencies must be willing to go beyond the baseline.

When starting the inclusion process, conversations should center around the main concept of how the recreation department or agency can provide the best recreation or leisure experience possible. At any given point during the inclusion process, roadblocks or barriers may become apparent. If the recreation department or agency is an inclusive organization with inclusion policies in place, the staff’s first inclination should not be to say that they are unable to accommodate the request. Instead, the staff should continuously work with the individual and/or family to find an inclusive solution to meet their needs.

Here is an example: Your program’s essential eligibility requirement is that all participants must be potty trained, but the registrant does not meet that requirement. What would you do? Your first response might be to say, “No, they cannot partake in the program.” On the other hand, to remain inclusionary, you could offer one of the following as ideas for accommodations:

  • A parent or caregiver could work from the lobby during the program and be readily available for any bathroom needs.
  • A parent or caregiver could come to change the child at a designated time during the program.
  • The participant can attend for only a portion of the program; e.g., they can attend two hours versus four hours, as they will not need to be changed or need any bathroom assistance during that time.

The practice of inclusion within physical locations needs to be viewed with a focus on barriers. Staff need to be mindful of obstacles preventing an individual from free and independent movement within a space or from one space to another. All programming areas — including, but not limited to, community centers, fitness centers, playgrounds, registration areas, trails, splash pads, pools, gyms, etc. — should be looked at from the perspective of someone with diverse needs and abilities. Ask yourself these questions: Are there any physical barriers that may stop the inclusion process from happening? How can they be eliminated?

The practice of inclusion in the environment also should be considered in terms of where the program(s) and service(s) are being delivered. Again, using a lens focused on seeing barriers, staff should take into account the following environmental stimulants: auditory, temperature, visual, olfactory and touch.

The practice of inclusion is extremely individualized and based on a person’s specific needs. These needs often lead to specific requests and/or modifications to ensure a successful leisure and recreational experience. These requests and/or modifications must be taken into account when designing a program or creating lesson plans. Barriers will occur when the needs of an individual are not considered and adaptations or modifications are not made to meet the specific needs of the individual. Staff need to have the ability to effectively and appropriately communicate and interact in inclusive environments. For inclusion to be successful, you have to create an environment where all individuals can thrive, focusing on what the individual can do versus what they cannot do.

There are additional components of inclusion that must be embraced by all park and recreation agencies for inclusion to thrive.

  • Staff need to understand and support the definition of inclusion. The agency and staff need to recognize the person as a unique individual, including all their diverse facets.
  • Understand that no one is exempt from accessing leisure and recreation programs and services. However, consider that there could be significant safety risks involved or eligibility requirements may not be met prior to registration. In those cases, agencies should have this clearly outlined in their code of conduct or eligibility requirements (e.g., the individual must be able to hold their breath for a certain number of seconds to be eligible to join the dive team).

Inclusion is a process that is ongoing and should always be a part of your program and agency goals and daily conversations. Everyone needs to play an active role in the inclusion process, keeping in mind that everything you do is an opportunity for inclusion to happen.

Andrea Griffin, CTRS, CPRP, CPE, is Superintendent of Recreation at Northwest Special Recreation Association. Victoria Gonzalez, CTRS, CPRP, CPE, is Manager of Inclusion Services at Northwest Special Recreation Association.