EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

                               of the


                            Prepared for the
                 Illinois Attorney General, Jim Ryan

                             Elaine Hoff
                 Policy Advisor on Disability Rights
                   Office of the Attorney General

                            Jason Speaks
                  Assistant to the Policy Advisors
                   Office of the Attorney General

                            August 2001
                              STATEMENTS OF RESPONDENTS

                                  Rating Recreation Programs

“Recreational activities for persons with disabilities have improved and become more inclusive;
however, this is certainly not a priority in my area. More emphasis is needed on all levels to see
this as a viable therapeutic method.”


“A program might just as well not exist if there is no transportation to and from it. Every parent
we know is willing to pay more for a ride. You simply can’t put a severely retarded or autistic
person with no speech in a taxi cab and feel safe about it.”

                                   Lack of Rural Recreation

“In my area, our park district does not provide special recreation programs. I wish I didn’t have
to travel far and pay non-resident fees.”


“Summer programs vary considerably in location and cost. The program that is only 15 minutes
from my house is considered out- of - district and the cost is $2,500 as opposed to $385 for in-
district residents. My only option is a $500 summer program that is 50 minutes away; almost 90
minutes by bus.”

                       Programs not Suitable for Specific Disabilities

“Remember that not all people who are disabled (use) wheelchairs. The developmentally
disabled population is often overlooked, they have their own special needs that need to be
considered that may not involve physical accessibility.”

                            Lack of Trained and Experienced Staff

“There seems to be very few young college students pursuing recreation as a profession for the
future; even fewer are going into therapeutic recreation. Somehow, advertise and promote these

                            Lack of Public Awareness of Programs

“Very often, families just don’t know what resources are out there...”
Recreation is an important part of community life. Access to the essential human need of
recreation is currently an issue for many people with disabilities. This issue was examined in the
Recreation Opportunities for People with Disabilities Survey developed by the Office of the
Attorney General. Recreation interests of survey respondents ranged from sports and outdoor
opportunities to cooking and reading. Responses varied from community to community and the
community profile of the respondent also played a role in the variance of survey responses. A
number of respondents stated that they would simply like to see social activities and arts and
crafts programs scheduled on a regular basis in their communities. Others had more complex
interests that would involve specialized facilities, equipment and highly trained staff. Because
the survey was conducted in an informal manner with no attempt to set up controls or other
scientific criteria, the results should be viewed only as a snapshot of perceptions regarding
recreation opportunities for people with disabilities.

                                PROFILE OF RESPONDENTS

Of the 912 responses to the Recreation Opportunities for People with Disabilities Survey,
the majority (40 percent) were parents of a child with a disability. Service providers who
provide services to people with disabilities were 34 percent of the total respondents. Consumers
with disabilities accounted for 32 percent of survey respondents; and 11 percent of the
respondents did not specify their community profile. Some respondents fit into more than one
community profile. For example, some respondents were parents of a child with a disability as
well as consumers of recreation services in their area.

                            RATING RECREATION PROGRAMS

Although there did not appear to be any significant dissatisfaction in recreation programs offered
in Illinois, the operation of programs in regards to accommodating people with disabilities was
generally considered fair to poor. While some respondents offered generous comments about the
overall programs offered, others stated that programs either did not exist in their area or were not
publicized enough to make the public aware of them. Additionally, some entities were willing to
change existing programs to fit the needs of people with disabilities, but were unaware of the
resources available to assist them in modifying their programs to accommodate people with
disabilities. Therefore, some of the negative ratings are reflective of the respondent’s knowledge
of area programs as well as service providers’ awareness of people with disabilities in the

Approximately 37 percent of respondents rated programs offered by private entities such as
bowling alleys and action parks as poor. However, some respondents had positive reactions to
the alternative measures taken by private entities in their area. One respondent stated that the
local bowling alley has made great strides in accommodating people with disabilities. Programs
offered by not-for-profit organizations were generally rated fair to poor. Although other
charitable organizations were frequently given a poor rating, a respondent from a small
community stated that despite the support of the local park district, most of the programs for
people with disabilities in her community would not exist if it was not for the local Lion’s Club
and another charitable organization. However, the poor ratings of other charitable organizations
may be associated with many people having few or no charitable community groups in their area.

The majority of respondents awarded good ratings to public programs such as those offered by
park districts and special recreation associations (SRAs), which are extensions of park district
programs for people with disabilities. The good ratings of these programs may be attributed to
the purpose of SRA programs in targeting the needs of a community’s disabled population. Most
respondents who selected SRA services expressed a great deal of satisfaction with the programs
and activities offered. A parent of a child with a disability stated that her local SRA has been a
“life saver” for her son in meeting his recreation needs.


A recreation provider cannot refuse to allow an individual into their program merely because he
or she has a disability. Although segregated programs are offered in some communities, people
with disabilities have the right to participate in regular recreation programs to enjoy equal
opportunity. An individual cannot be denied or discriminated against in participation in a regular
recreation program, unless some other limitation on the obligation to provide services applies. A
person with a disability desiring participation in a recreation program or activity must first meet
the essential eligibility requirements of the program. These eligibility requirements include
registering and paying for the program in full, the same price as non-disabled participants. A
person who cannot meet the legitimate physical requirements of the program or activity can be
excluded also.

A recreation provider must take all of the necessary steps to make their program or activity as
accessible as possible for people with disabilities. However, if a recreation provider can
demonstrate that making modifications to their program would “fundamentally alter” the nature
or character of the program, it may not be required that they modify the program. Furthermore, a
recreation provider is required to remove architectural and communication barriers from their
programs whenever readily achievable. The removal is not required if the provider can
demonstrate that the barrier removal is too difficult and costly to accomplish or presents an
undue financial and administrative burden to the provider. Recreation providers can also exclude
an individual from participation in a program or activity when the individual poses a “direct
threat” or a significant risk to the health or safety of others than cannot be eliminated by a
modification of policies, practices or procedures or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services.
However, in determining whether an individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of
other participants, a recreation provider must make an individualized assessment or evaluation of
the need of the disabled person to determine the severity of the risk, the probability that the
potential injury will actually occur and whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices or
procedures will mitigate the risk. The individualized assessment is to be completed on a person-
by-person, program-by-program basis.

Although an individual desiring recreation opportunities is not required to accept separate
programs, recreation providers may extend their services and develop a separate or segregated
program for people with disabilities when an integrated program is not feasible. Segregated
programs must be specifically designed to meet the needs of the participants with disabilities for
whom they are provided. An example derived from survey responses is a basketball league.
Basketball leagues for people without disabilities do not allow people who use wheelchairs to
participate in the league due to the “direct threat” or potential risk of injury to others as described
previously. Some respondents stated that recreation facilities in their communities sponsor a
basketball league for wheelchair users during which they are allowed to use their wheelchairs
during the games. A recreation provider may also impose legitimate safety requirements, based
on actual risks, that are necessary for the safe operation of the program.

The United States Supreme Court dealt with the issue of fundamental alterations in sporting
events in the PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin case. Casey Martin is a professional golfer who
has Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome, a congenital, degenerative circulatory disorder that
obstructs the flow of blood from his leg back to his heart. The condition has caused Martin
severe pain and has degenerated his right leg. As a result, the pain and atrophy make Martin
unable to walk for extended periods of time. The Professional Golf Association ( PGA) Tour,
Inc., requires golfers who participate in their tournaments to walk the 18-hole golf course during
play. The PGA stated that the purpose of this requirement is to subject players to fatigue, which
in turn may influence the outcome of the tournament. Due to Martin’s condition, he requested
that the PGA make a reasonable modification of its “walking rule” and allow him the use of a
golf cart during tournament play. Martin’s request was denied by the PGA. As a result, Martin
sued the PGA under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers places
of public accommodation.

The Court found that golf courses were specifically identified as a public accommodation and
that the PGA could not discriminate against either spectators or competitors on the basis of
disability. The Court found that a waiver of the “walking rule” for Martin would not be a
fundamental alteration of the game. It would not alter such an essential aspect of the game that it
would be unacceptable even if it affected all competitors equally. It would not give Martin an
advantage over others and fundamentally alter the character of the competition. The Court found
that the purpose of the walking rule was to inject fatigue into the game, but Martin experiences
more fatigue than other golfers, even with the usage of a cart. Use of golf carts was not itself
inconsistent with the basic character of the game. Nothing in the Rules of Golf forbid the use of
carts or penalized their usage.

Roughly half of respondents stated that recreation programs are generally segregated in their
area. Segregated programs were said by some to be more beneficial to program participants. A
mother of a child with a disability stated that she would rather have her daughter enrolled in a
special recreation program where her child can develop friendships with others who have much
more in common with her. However, others desired inclusive programs for their child to ensure
that he or she benefits from the social exposure gained from participating alongside neighbors
and community members without disabilities in the least restrictive environment.

A grandparent of a child with a mental disability described her success in developing programs
for special needs children in her community. When her granddaughter was unable to handle the
environment of a village sponsored Egg Hunt, she decided to sponsor programs and events for
special needs children where they could feel more comfortable and participate with their whole
family. Due to the success of the program, she has continued the Egg Hunt as well as sponsored
other family oriented programs in her community.

Approximately 34 percent of respondents reported that programs in their area were commonly
designed for inclusive placements for people with disabilities. Many respondents stressed that
not every person with a disability requires specialized recreation programming. One parent of a
child with a disability stated that there are not enough inclusive programs for her son. However,
she added that inclusion of her son in a dance program offered at the local high school made her
family, “really feel like part of the community.”

Many people with disabilities and their families preferred to have a choice when choosing
between various programs. Therefore, depending on the needs and interests of the consumer,
programs in some areas offered both inclusive and segregated programs. Six (6) percent of
respondents stated that both inclusive and segregated placements are offered in their
communities for people with disabilities.

                                    PROGRAM SUPPORTS

When a person with a disability wants to enjoy a regular recreation program, the entity offering
the program may be obligated to modify the program so that the person with a disability can
participate in the program alongside their peers without a disability. Program supports, such as
adaptive equipment and qualified sign language interpreters, can facilitate relationships between
people with disabilities and their peers without a disability in a less restrictive environment.
Keeping in mind that programs varied by community, 44 percent of respondents stated that
recreation opportunities encompassed the necessary inclusive supports, whereas, 43 percent said
that programs in their area did not.

A service provider stated that recreation programs for people with disabilities should include
some level of interaction with their non-disabled peers; otherwise community integration and
inclusion are not easily attained. A parent stated that the physical benefits of these programs are
ancillary to the social exposure gained by program participants such as the relationships
developed by people with disabilities and their non disabled peers.

Recommendations of Survey Respondents:

•      Provide training for both private/public recreation service providers on disability
       awareness and promotion of inclusion into their programs.

•      Encourage recreation providers to modify programs to fit the skill limitations and needs
       of people with moderate to severe disabilities.

•      Provide adaptive equipment for people with disabilities to participate in programs in the
       most integrated setting.

•      Provide qualified sign language interpreters for persons who are deaf and hard of hearing

•      Provide funding for additional professional staff to decrease staff-to-participant ratios.

•      Development of social activities for people with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.

                                BARRIERS TO RECREATION

Respondents were asked to select from a number of potential barriers to recreation in their
communities as well as listed other physical and policy barriers which prevent people with
disabilities from participating in recreation opportunities.


Assembling recreation programs that are cost efficient and affordable for all families was
regarded as a crucial matter by numerous respondents. The cost of recreation programs was a
barrier for 55 percent of the respondents. One parent stated that it costs $43 for her daughter to
participate in a social activity composed of pizza and a movie. She added that special recreation
programs are too costly and said that she has many programs in mind for her daughter, but the
costs are extremely high and too prohibitive for her budget. Another parent explained that the
costs of SRA programs for her son are reasonable, but when her son participates in several
programs it gets expensive.

Special recreation associations contend that they cannot reach their full potential and reduce their
participation fees due to the “Tax Cap” ( Property Tax Extension Limitation Act), which SRAs
specify, affects their ability to provide an affordable number of programs. One SRA service
provider suggested that the State of Illinois fund “inadequately supported” federal mandates in
providing matching grants to special recreation service providers, which would allow them to
adjust the costs of programs and still have enough funds for trained staff and the rising cost to
provide special recreation services. Another SRA provider said that programs under her
direction are operating on “bare bones”, yet the demand for special recreation services is

Recommendations of Survey Respondents:

•      Removal of the Property Tax Extension Limitation Act to restore full funding to SRAs.

•      State matching grants for inclusion offered to service providers who provide special
       recreation services.

•      Reduce the costs associated with recreation opportunities in order for low-income
       individuals to be able to take advantage of them.

•      Elimination of Special Recreation Associations out-of-district fees.

•      Offer scholarships for low-income families.

•      Provide information on funding sources to local agencies who are interested in starting a
       recreation program for people with disabilities that would serve the entire community.


Transportation, in particular, is an intricate barrier to accessing opportunities for many people
with disabilities. Approximately 64 percent of survey respondents indicated that lack of
transportation is one of the largest barriers to recreation. Many smaller communities did not
have a mass transit system or any other alternative transportation programs.

Many reported that when transportation is offered in their community, it is at a high cost to
consumers as well as to local government to maintain. One parent stated that it costs $8 per trip
for her son to receive a ride. She added that there is no consistency with her son’s transportation
as sometimes he is not picked up nor notified that he will not be given a ride. In some cases,
transport buses and vans did not have a lift or wheelchair securement area for people who use a
wheelchair. One person stated that his community has a bus with a wheelchair lift, but it is

Special recreation associations (SRAs) offer transportation for participants during activities and
events through participating park districts. An SRA Executive Director reported that many SRAs
provide nearly 250,000 rides per year for participants going to and from recreation programs, in
81 vans or buses operated by the SRAs. However, many respondents stated that they cannot
benefit from the transportation services due to living outside of the SRA’s district and high out-
of-district fees. It was recommended by one consumer that the geographical districts for special
recreation associations be expanded to include smaller communities as well as eliminate out-of-
district fees, which many families cannot afford to pay.

Recommendations of Survey Respondents:

•      Expansion and flexibility of the time schedule for reliable transport vehicles.

•      Reduce the costs of transportation to and from recreation programs and activities.

•      Financial assistance for securing safe vehicles with lifts.
•      Establish a volunteer network to transport individuals to and from programs and

•      Provide training to mass transit bus drivers on disability awareness.

Facility not Accessible

Facilities from health clubs to community centers provide programs for individuals to exercise as
well as partake in social activities with other community members. However, some individuals
are unable to participate in these programs and activities. Approximately 31 percent of
respondents stated that architectural barriers, such as stairway entrances and narrow doorways,
prevented them from participating in programs offered in these facilities. The respondents
asserted that, without a physical change to the facility, a person with a disability cannot
participate in the programs offered within. For example, a person who uses a wheelchair is
unable to enter a facility that only has stairway entrances.

Accessibility in a facility includes sidewalks, parking and passageways. One respondent noted
that the fitness equipment and machines located in her local health club are too close to each
other, preventing a person who uses a wheelchair from getting in between the isles and operating
the equipment. A mother claimed that her daughter, who is quadriplegic, has not been in a
swimming pool for five (5) years due to the inaccessible local pool, which makes it difficult for
her daughter to get in and out of the pool. As a result, the child only sits and watches others have
fun in the swimming pool. A facility with a swimming pool must comply with accessibility
guidelines, but no standards are set for the swimming pool itself. Therefore, some facilities have
the necessary accessibility features for people with disabilities, but do not have a lift or other
equipment for their swimming pool.

Many of the facilities that where considered inaccessible by respondents were existing facilities
in which making the facility accessibly was not readily achievable. In these facilities, creating
accessible features within the facility can be expensive and difficult to complete. Therefore,
ADA requirements on existing facilities are less demanding than on new construction due to the
possible “undue burden” placed on the facility owners.

Recommendations of Survey Respondents:

•      Provide funding to modify and construct facilities used for recreation programming.

•      Provide training to public and private facility owners.

•      Relocate programs that are offered in inaccessible facilities to accessible sites.

Programs not adapted.

When recreation programs are not adapted, people with disabilities are inordinately limited to a
concise variety of programs to choose from. A number of people with disabilities (40 percent)
were unable to participate in community recreation programs because the program(s) offered are
not adapted to fit the needs and desires of the individual with a disability.

Some respondents stated that people with disabilities are unable to participate in recreation
programs because there is no adaptive equipment. Some communities had a swimming pool,
which cannot be accessed by a person with a disability because it does not have a lift or other
mechanism to assist the person in getting in and out of the pool.

Recommendations of Survey Respondents

•      Encourage recreation providers to conduct a self evaluation of their goods and services to
       identify barriers.

Programs not Suitable for Specific Disabilities.

It is not required that programs or activities that are targeted to a specific disabled population be
extended to all people with disabilities. For example, if a baseball league is developed for
persons who are visually impaired, the sponsor may exclude other individuals with disabilities
who are not visually impaired. Special recreation associations and alike entities offer a wide
array of programming for people with disabilities. However, the primary population served by
these programs are individuals with low incidence conditions. Although, special programs
attempt to deliver services to all people with disabilities, parents and consumers stated that this is
a complex process. It is difficult for some service providers to enhance integrated settings for
activities when the implications for participation require many adaptations to the programs.
Service providers must have a knowledge of the characteristics of people with disabilities as well
as an awareness of the diversity among various disabilities.

The most commonly reported disability that was under served in regards to recreation was
autism. A parent stated that one out of every 500 children has autism and recreation programs in
her area do not accommodate these children. A parent of a child with a disability used sports as a
program example in this situation. The parent stated that sports programs should be offered at
individual achievement levels. In this case, the programs would fit each participant’s individual
skill level, which would make the programs more beneficial to the participant. Another parent
asserted that high functioning people with disabilities are limited when placed into programs
with others who have a severe or profound disability. Another parent added that inclusive
recreation should be handled properly and appropriately to ensure that including a child in a
program does not put the other children at safety risks.

Wheelchair users were the second most commonly under served disability in recreation
programs. A parent of a child who uses a wheelchair in Springfield stated that his son enjoys
basketball, but there were no basketball leagues or activities that would accept his son.
Therefore, to fulfill his son’s desire to play basketball, he made a weekly trip to St. Louis,
Missouri so his son could participate in a wheelchair sports league.

Lack of Age-Appropriate Programs.

It was noted by approximately 31 percent of respondents that some programs are not appropriate
for certain age groups. One respondent expressed that the programs offered in his area are
tailored to younger aged persons with few programs for adults to participate in. Another
respondent stated that programs should not mix adults with younger age children. Service
providers contend that they do not have adequate funding to develop and maintain a number of
programs for all people with disabilities.

Lack of Trained and Experienced Staff.

Although many programs were comprised of dedicated staff, some respondents noted that these
staff members need to be trained and experienced in understanding the challenges of all
disabilities in order to make programs beneficial to participants. Approximately 43 percent of
respondents stated that recreation programs did not encompass staff with knowledge of the needs
of people with disabilities. The most commonly identified problem with poorly trained staff
were management of persons who have a severe or profound disability. A parent of a child with
a disability stated that the lack of trained and experienced staff is a problem in his area, especially
because the local service providers depend so much on the assistance of volunteers who are not

However, some respondents were pleased with the experience of staff members of their special
recreation association and alike organizations. One parent stated that in all cases, she found the
programs offered by the community’s SRA to be well-organized with trained personnel. Another
parent stated that increased training for recreation staff will make parents of children with
disabilities feel more comfortable with their child’s participation in programs

Recommendations of Survey Respondents:

•       Establish training programs for recreation services staff members.

•       Provide consulting to assure that new programs are going well.

•       Develop inclusive recreation manuals for recreation staff members.

                              LACK OF RURAL RECREATION

Several respondents cited the need for any type of recreation in their community comparable to
those offered in the larger municipalities. Unlike many larger municipalities that have an entity
whose purpose is to provide recreation services, most of the rural areas did not have this entity or
the community resources to offer recreation programs at all. Many respondents residing in
smaller communities stated that they face several miles of traveling and high out-of-park district
fees to access recreation programs and activities. A respondent in an area with a population of
425 stated that his family travels 185 miles for an exemplary recreation program. He added that
the program is only offered once per year. Because 94% of the municipalities in Illinois have a
population of less than 25,000, one respondent recommended that a funding instrument be
implemented to assist rural communities in delivering recreation services.

Recommendations of Survey Respondents:

•      Expansion of Special Recreation Districts to include rural communities.

•      Funding for rural municipalities to increase recreation opportunities.

•      Educate rural communities in organizing efforts to develop recreation programs and
       activities for people with disabilities.


In some areas, service providers indicated that programs are currently offered with inclusive
placements and supports for people with disabilities and many communities have programs
offered specifically for people with disabilities. However, many consumers and parents stated
that they did not participate in recreation programs simply because they were unaware of the
options that existed in their community. Additionally, some entities who operate recreation
programs were unaware of any available resources to assist them in eliminating barriers to their
services. One person professed that many people in his area were unaware of recreation
opportunities due to a lack of support in making the community aware of them. Another
respondent noted that he has to search out any type of recreation program due to a lack of
advertising and marketing on the part of the service providers. As a result, it was suggested that
organizations develop aggressive marketing techniques to make communities aware of their
options in recreation programs.

Recommendations of Survey Respondents:

•      Development of a Resource Guide, which describes recreation opportunities in
       communities for people with disabilities.

•      Public information campaigns by entities that offer recreation opportunities for people
       with disabilities.
•   Encourage communities to develop new programs when a specific program is not

•   Provide funding for existing organizations to promote and advertise recreation
    opportunities for children and adults with disabilities.


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