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Making recreation and leisure accessible for everyone

Photo courtesy of Salt Lake County Parks & Recreation

SALT LAKE CITY– Recreation and leisure should be accessible to everyone regardless of ability. Salt Lake County Parks & Recreation has implemented Adaptive and Inclusion programs to ensure people of all abilities can participate in activities throughout the county.

“Our mission is to improve lives through people, parks, and play,” said Eljay Johnson, Adaptive Recreation Manager, speaking on Let’s Get Moving with Maria. “The goal is to reach out to all individuals of all different abilities,” continued Eljay.

Inclusion Program 

Recreation Inclusion Manager, Kristen Sproul, provides support and accommodations to make sure all community members are successful at any activity.

“Every Salt Lake County Parks & Recreation center provides inclusion,” said Sproul. That means, “someone with a disability can join any program that is offered at that rec center and be successfully included,” Sproul emphasized.

In order to take advantage of the program, guardians need to check a box on the back of a flyer located at every rec center. An employee will reach out to the individual/guardian to learn more about the disability and what the person will need to be successful. If they need additional support, contacting Kristen is the path to take.

“I’ll do an assessment to see what their skills are based on the skills others have in the program and see what we can do to make them have the most fun and be the most successful in the setting,” said Sproul.

Adaptive Program 

The purpose of the adaptive program is to “reach out to everyone in the area to be able to give them the fulfilling experience they need in recreation, in fun, and in life,” said Johnson. The adaptive program is about providing a safe environment where individuals with disabilities can explore their interests and develop new ones.

Rec centers provide a lengthy list of different activities for disabled Utahns to participate in. They offer everything from sports to cooking classes with the intention of providing independence and education. Some activities run all year long, such as Aquatics.

People are often surprised at the lengths Salt Lake County Parks & Recreation will go to make others feel comfortable and welcome.

“We want people to experience recreation and how impactful it can be for their lives,” said Sproul. “If it’s me going to a field every Saturday to make sure that someone’s son or daughter has a positive experience, I’m willing to do that.”

The Outcome of the Programs

These programs don’t just benefit persons with disabilities. Providing these opportunities are critical for both abled and disabled bodies. “It’s a learning process for everyone involved,” said Johnson. These programs teach us about “ability and defining ability in general. They help us break down different stigmas and social barriers,” Johnson revealed.

Able body individuals begin to learn about inclusion and adaptability as well.

“Reverse inclusion,” explains Sproul “is people who don’t have disabilities seeing the impact of the program for people with disabilities and how empowering that is for the community as a whole.”

The program also has some awesome success stories. “Some of our members go on to be Paralympians,” said Johnson,” which is rewarding for them and rewarding for the program as a whole.”

Get Involved

However, there’s a downside to the program. There aren’t enough Utahns who know about the services Salt Lake County Park & Recreation offer persons with disability.

“We don’t have enough participants, but we have the equipment and the capability to provide if people are interested,” Eljay said. Johnson notes it’s difficult to get the word out there that these opportunities exist.

If you know someone who would benefit from the services offered or would like to volunteer, e-mail adaptiverecreation@slco.org.

Let’s Get Moving with Maria is available wherever you get your podcasts and check out previous episodes here! Make sure to follow the podcast on Facebook and Instagram!