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Leisure and Recreation

Leisure and Recreation
The Arts
Mental Health Support for Students Transitioning to Adulthood in Florida
Leisure and Recreation
Transition Topic Areas
Independent Living
Health Care Transition
Head and Spinal Cord Injuries

The concept of "All work and no play" can be traced as far back as the ancient Egyptians who saw the need for leisure and recreation activities and understood how these activities made more productive workers.

IDEA 2004 describes transition services as a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that "is designed to be a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child's movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation".

Independent Living and community participation would and should include planning for leisure/recreation activities.

The phrase "quality of life" is often used to describe goals for students with disabilities after they exit a secondary/postsecondary program, but what does it really mean?   In most instances, it refers to not only the physical aspect of life, but to the intangible aspect of having a good time, experiencing fun things, and maintaining a positive outlook on life. Planning for a "good quality of life," especially for students with more significant disabilities needs to include the area of leisure and recreation.

Kleinert, Miracle, & Shepard-Jones (2007) gave the following ideas for including high school students in extracurricular school and community activities:

  • School clubs, such as computer club, foreign language clubs, drama club, Future Farmers of America, Key Club
  • School-sponsored sports teams and Special Olympics Unified Sports
  • Classes or lessons outside of school, including drama, dance, gymnastics, ice skating, sports lessons, pottery, music lessons, horseback riding, sewing, and cooking
  • Spending time with other students, for example, just "hanging out" on the weekends or going to movies
  • Volunteer opportunities in the community, including opportunities through school service learning activities
  • Church-related activities and youth groups
  • Classes that include extracurricular activities as part of the regular curriculum, such as drama, dance, band, chorus, orchestra, agricultural, business, and child care
  • School sponsored social events including dances, sporting events, and plays
  • A local fitness center or community health club.

There are several strategies that can be used to encourage student participation in school and community activities which include:

  • Teachers of students with disabilities sponsoring a club (Key Club, Interact, etc.) that is open to all students
  • Teachers of students with disabilities sponsoring a high school class (Freshmen, Sophomore, etc.) that has activities open to all students
  • Introducing and pairing students with mentors or peer buddies (Best Buddies)
  • Promoting the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classes that have a component of community involvement (drama, student government, etc.)
  • Effective communication with parents to encourage them to allow their child to participate in school-based and community-based extracurricular activities
  • Using person-centered planning techniques to determine specific likes and interests of students with disabilities

Public legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Rehabilitation Act of 1992 provide information to various stakeholders on how to support persons with disabilities.  These laws reflect the principle that people with disabilities are entitled to the same opportunities as their peers without disabilities.  These opportunities include the right to enjoy work, recreation and leisure and other "quality of life" experiences available in our society.


Let the Fun Begin!
A curriculum for training volunteers or staff to support children with special health care needs and disabilities in community recreation. Topics include adaptive recreation, behavior management, disability etiquette, professional conduct, and universal precautions.

Local Parks and Recreation Departments
Most city and county Parks and Recreation Departments offer programs for persons with special needs.  For example, the Parks and Recreation Department for Broward County offers the following:

  • Social Functions and Events to provide opportunities for peer interaction in an appropriate social setting.
  • Sports and Athletics to teach or enhance skills and to promote physical activity, friendly competition, fun, and success in individual, duo, and team activities.
  • Leisure Education to explore, examine, and discover personal attitudes, interests, and potential opportunities through experiential discussions and initiatives that focus on leisure awareness and resources in order to promote healthy independent recreation and leisure lifestyles.
  • Physical Fitness Programs to teach and improve general fitness in a group setting.
  • General Recreation to provide for the discovery and experience of a variety of activities that promote learning, skill development, creativity, life skills enhancement, and enjoyment.
  • Facilitate Inclusion by working directly with potential participants, significant others, and Division staff to provide, as needed, resources, assistance, training, modifications, and/or equipment that will enable persons with disabilities to actively participate in any Division-wide program and event. 

To find out what is offered in your area, contact your city or county Parks and Recreation Department.

Best Buddies
The mission of Best Buddies is to enhance the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by providing opportunities for one-to-one friendships and integrated employment. People with intellectual disabilities are often excluded from society because of their differences. Best Buddies is determined to end the social isolation of people with intellectual disabilities by establishing meaningful lasting one-to-one friendships with their peers without intellectual disabilities. These friendships help increase self-esteem, confidence and the abilities of people with and without intellectual disabilities. 

Best Buddies envisions a world where people with intellectual disabilities are so successfully integrated into our schools, our workplaces, and our general communities that our current efforts and services will be unnecessary. Until that vision becomes a reality, we will continue to educate students, community members, corporations and employers about emotional, functional and natural needs and abilities of people with intellectual disabilities. By 2010, Best Buddies will continue to build on its successful volunteer base in all 50 states, further expand its accredited international program to 50 countries and annually engage more than 500,000 people worldwide.

Special Olympics
Through year-round sports training and competition, Special Olympics empowers individuals with intellectual disabilities in more than 180 countries. Special Olympics often is the only place where they have an opportunity to participate in their communities and develop belief in themselves. Many live lives of neglect and isolation, hidden away or socially excluded from full participation in schools or society. Transforming the athlete, Special Olympics sports are a gateway to empowerment, competence, acceptance and joy.

Florida Disabled Outdoor Association
Florida Disabled Outdoors Association enriches lives through accessible inclusive recreation and active leisure for all. Its long range objectives are:

  1. To educate the public and disseminate information pertaining to recreational areas, facilities, programs, events, and opportunities that include persons with disabilities.
  2. To promote and provide recreational activities and programs for people of all abilities and all ages.
  3. To forward the advancement and development of the appropriate use of public and private lands on which people with disabilities may participate in recreation.
  4. To advocate for accessible and inclusive recreation while networking with recreation program providers as well as organizations that serve persons with disabilities.
  5. To assist designers, planners, and managers in making recreational programs, areas, and facilities universally accessible.
  6. To work with civic groups and organizations in promoting special recreational opportunities to include people with disabilities.
  7. To provide community resource information to the public emphasizing efforts to reach persons with disabilities.
  8. To promote the wise use of our natural resources in the best interest of all, both present and future.
  9. To advance understanding of the importance of active leisure activities on the health and well being of everyone and the therapeutic value of recreation.
  10. To promote high standards of sportsmanship and ethics.

Little League Baseball – Challenger Division
The Challenger Division was established in 1989 as a separate division of Little League Baseball to enable boys and girls with physical and mental disabilities, ages 5-18 or the completion of high school, to enjoy the game of baseball along with the millions of other children who participate in this sport worldwide. Teams are set up according to abilities, rather than age, and can include as many as 15-20 players, who can participate in one of three levels: Tee-Ball, Coach-Pitch or Player Pitch.

Each player gets a chance at bat. The side is retired when the offense has batted through the roster, or when a pre-determined number of runs has been scored, or when three outs are recorded. Little League recommends that no score be kept during games. The Challenger players wear the same uniforms, shoulder patches and safety equipment as other Little League players.

The registration fee for the Challenger Division is $16.00 per team (same as for all other divisions of Little League). Accident insurance is set at the same low cost as other Little League divisions and is available through Little League Headquarters in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

One of the benefits of having a Challenger Division is that it encourages the use of "buddies" for the Challenger players. The buddies assist the Challenger players on the field but whenever possible, encourage the players to bat and make plays themselves. However, the buddy is always nearby to help when needed.

The nation's 2,686 YMCAs respond to critical social needs by drawing on its collective strength as of one of the largest not-for-profit community service organizations in the United States. Today’s YMCAs serve thousands of U.S. communities, uniting 21 million children and adults of all ages, races, faiths, backgrounds, abilities and income levels. Its reach and impact can be seen in the millions of lives touched every year. Across the nation, YMCAs are committed to helping:

  • Children and youth deepen positive values, their commitment to service and their motivation to learn
  • Families build stronger bonds, spend time together and become more engaged with their communities
  • Individuals strengthen their spiritual, mental and physical well-being

At every stage of life, YMCAs are there to help children, families and individuals reach their full potential.

Florida State Parks
The Division of Recreation and Parks will ensure, to the greatest extent feasible, that all people, including persons with disabilities, receive the same program and activity opportunities. The Division of Recreation and Parks will take all reasonable steps to ensure effective communication with individuals having hearing and vision impairment or loss by providing appropriate auxiliary aids or alternate formats, in order to afford them the opportunity to participate in and enjoy the benefits of programs and activities. The Division of Recreation and Parks , however, is not required to take any actions or provide access that would result in a fundamental alteration to the nature of a program or activity.

Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International
(Formerly the North American Riding for Handicapped Association)
PATH International’s mission is to "change and enrich lives by promoting excellence in equine assisted activities." To accomplish this mission, it fosters safe, professional, ethical and therapeutic equine activities through education, communication, research and standards. The association ensures its standards are met through an accreditation process for centers and a certification process for instructors.

The Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association (EFMHA), founded in 1996, is a member of PATH International and provides equine-facilitated psychotherapy (EFP) for people with psychological issues and mental health needs, including anxiety, depression, and autism. EFP is facilitated by a licensed, credentialed mental health professional who works with an appropriately credentialed equine professional, or is dually credentialed as an equine professional.


Kleinert, H., Miracle, S, & Shepard-Jones, K (2007).  Including Students with Moderate and Severe Disabilities in Extracurricular and Community Recreation Activities, Steps to Success.  Teaching Exceptional Children, July/August 2007

Modell, S., Valdez, L.,(2002).  Beyond Bowling, Transition Planning for Students with Disabilities.  Teaching Exceptional Children, July/August 2002

Wehman, P., Life Beyond the Classroom, Transition Strategies for Young People with Disabilities, Second Edition 1996.  Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co.



The development of this website was funded by the University of South Florida St. Petersburg
through a grant by the Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services,
Florida Department of Education (2010 - 2011, 291-2621A-1C008).

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