What Are Benefits of Social Inclusion for Participants?

Inclusive leisure participation prepares all people for life in a diverse societyand prepares society to accept individual diversity. Inclusion has many benefits, and greater social acceptance by peers and social inclusion in the community are among the most important. Benefits of inclusion include accepted social behav-iors, increased interactions with others, positive feelings, increased friendships, and improved communication.

When discussing benefits of inclusion, people often focus on benefits experi-enced by people who have been oppressed, such as those who are not members of the dominant race or religion. Benefits to these individuals are numerous, yet benefits to people who are privileged are also plentiful.

Learning to live and play with people who are different is a critical part of aperson’s development. Inclusive communities provide people with a chance to learn from each other; grow to care for one another; and gain the attitudes, skills, and values necessary for advancing society.

When we include all people in community programs, those who have beenoppressed enjoy life in their community, practitioners improve their profes-sional skills, and overall society operates according to the social value of equity for all people. The following are benefits of inclusion:

• Cultivate friendships

• Acquire social skills

• Develop lifelong skills

• Enhance image

• Improve academic performance

• Improve attitudes

• Increase understanding

• Develop acceptance

Cultivate Friendships

People develop friendships when they participate in inclusive communityleisure programs. Friendship is a social relationship between two people that is reciprocal, rewarding, and enjoyable for both parties and characterized by mul-tiple, voluntary contacts and shared experiences across time.

Friendships are reciprocal because the relationship is mutual and thus pro-vides opportunities to give and receive. People become friends with someone voluntarily; they freely choose who they consider to be their friend. When people are with a friend, they typically enjoy that person’s company; they take pleasure in being with that person. Another characteristic of a friend is that the person shares similar interests. Similar interests create opportunities to bond with that person and engage in conversations and joint participation.

Research supports the conclusion that quality friendships are associated with positive attitudes and reduce the chance of a person being victimized by peers. Often participants develop friendships that emerge out of shared interests iden-tified during inclusive leisure experiences.

Because Eryn made friends while participating in a community recre-ation program, she was invited to birthday parties, received telephone calls from friends, and had friends visit her house to play.

When parents are asked about what they want for their children, often they indicate that they want their child to have friends.

Linda talked about her dreams for her daughter: “Our goals for Katie in-clude wanting her to feel loved. She is a very social child and while I think she has a great capacity to make friends, I wonder how other children will accept her” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administra-tion for Children and Families, 1994, p. 2).

Recreation activities that permit interaction with a person’s peers provide opportunities for shared interests, a sense of accomplishment, feelings of be-longing, formation of a personal identity, and mastery over the environment. Inclusive leisure services help to reduce barriers and create a forum for emerg-ing relationships and making of friends.

Friends usually help us to be better people, because we tend to behave better when we know our friends are watching. An effective way to develop or strength-en existing friendships is to provide individuals with the opportunity to engage in fun yet challenging activities together. Friendship are inspired in times of dif-ficulty and enjoyment.

Acquire Social Skills

People are more likely to develop the social skills needed to develop rela-tionships when participating in inclusive leisure opportunities. Having friends is important to the quality of every person’s life, and people learn best when learn-ing what their friends are learning. Inclusive environments give people a chance to learn to get along with others, interact, seek and lend assistance, understand when assistance is needed, make sense of changing contexts, ask questions, com-municate with others, and behave appropriately.

People who are disenfranchised have a tendency not to learn social skills associated with the mainstream of society. As discussed, people who are disen-franchised have been deprived of certain privileges or rights and are congre-gated in a particular area. When people enjoy leisure in inclusive environments, they tend to interact with one another and develop relationships with their peers.

Researchers have identified that children interact more often with oth-er children and exhibit more socially advanced skills in inclusive set-tings (Dreimanus et al., 1992). Inclusive playgroups facilitate peer in-teraction, whereas segregated ones constrain peer interaction and promote adult–child interaction (Guralnick & Groom, 1988). Social interactions increase during inclusive programs associated with art (Schleien, Ray, Soderman-Olson, & McMahon, 1987).

Researchers consistently find that people’s feelings of self-worth, communica-tion and interaction abilities, leadership skills, and tolerance of diversity are en-hanced when they participate in inclusive environments.

Develop Lifelong Skills

The presence of inclusive options promotes development of lifelong func-tional recreation skills. People learn interdependent behaviors such as asking for assistance by experiencing challenges that are part of inclusive community life. As discussed, behaviors are interdependent when they require people to rely on one another and when there is mutual support for each person’s efforts.

Participants of all abilities feel enjoyment when we, as professionals, value each person’s contribution. A variety of lifelong recreation activity skills are de-veloped in inclusive situations.

Martial arts including tae kwon do, karate, and judo are engaged in across the life span. Forms of inclusive creative arts such as playing a musical in-strument in a band or being a member of a community theater group are enjoyed throughout life. Lifelong recreation activities promoting social engagement and fitness include golf and tennis.

Enhance Image

Placement of people in a segregated context results in people being viewednegatively. Conversely, when people are included, their image is enhanced be-cause they become part of a community that is representative of a society.

Researchers examined attitudes of college students toward a woman in either Special Olympics for people with developmental disabilities or in recreation activities in an inclusive setting. The woman was regarded as younger and needing more assistance in the Special Olympics than in typical recreation activities. This study supports the belief that the image of a person is more positive when the person is in an inclusive context as opposed to a segregated one (Storey, Stern, & Parker, 1991).

Improve Academic Performance

Many individuals who are involved in inclusive programs do better academi-cally and socially than do individuals in segregated environments.

Researchers concluded that children in inclusive settings did better than they did in previous years when they were in segregated programs. Par-ents stated that inclusion resulted in removing barriers to learning includ-ing increased vocabulary, use of coping strategies, being less dependent, being more interactive, and reducing inappropriate behaviors (Ryndak, Downing, Jacqueline, & Morrison, 1995).

In summary, people accrue many benefits from participating in inclusive leisure services. The most prominent benefits associated with inclusion relate to participants’ abilities to engage in social interactions with their peers and de-velop meaningful friendships.

Improve Attitudes

People often positively alter their attitudes about diverse individuals as a re-sult of joint participation in selected activities.

Research supports the practice of carefully planning inclusive programs, because this often results in positive outcomes. After children participat-ed in inclusive arts, their attitudes toward their peers improved (Schleien et al., 1987).

If joint participation results in people having positve attitudes toward oth-ers who differ from them in some manner, then they will likely participate in activities with these people again. These people bring a positive attitude to the activity, resulting in them confidently influencing others’ attitudes, thus creating a cycle of positive attitudes.

Increase Understanding

For people of all abilities, enjoyment of recreation opportunities occurs when others value their contribution. Exposure to inclusive leisure services results in a greater understanding and acceptance of individuals with varying backgrounds and ability levels. This exposure creates the potential for inclusion to have a pos-itive effect on social development of all individuals.

When involved in inclusive programs, people become more accepting of dif-ferences and begin to appreciate the capacities of all participants. The following quote from the Georgia Advocacy Office over 25 years ago illustrates the benefits people receive when participating in inclusive programs:

Our world includes an array of people who, we believe, are more alike than different. What children learn from each other about difference and acceptance is equally as important as the technical education that they receive. We all need to learn how to live and work together. Students develop more fully when they welcome people with different gifts and abilities into their lives and when all feel secure that they will receive in-dividualized help when they need it.

Develop Acceptance

We take an active role in reducing social stigmas by emphasizing similarities rather than differences. Such a reduction in stigmatization increases acceptance.

After conducting multiple interviews with youth, researchers found that youth reported positive results when the leisure context emphasized similarities in participant abilities (Devine & Wilhite, 2000).

Long-term interactions between different groups of people facilitate devel-opment of skills, attitudes, and values that prepare these groups to share, par-ticipate, and contribute to their communities. As a result of participation in inclusive leisure services, people learn new ways to solve problems and adapt to difference, develop positive attitudes toward people who are different from them, and increase acceptance of people in general.

Surveying almost 1,500 high school students, researchers found that youth educated in inclusive settings expect and recommend inclusion. However, if they attend schools providing limited inclusion, they expect and recommend segregation; youth with inclusive experiences are better prepared for adulthood when they meet diverse people in their commu-nity (Fisher, Pupian, & Sax, 1998).

As a result of participating in inclusive leisure opportunities, many people report that they experience personal growth and increased social sensitivity, including improved capacity for compassion, kindness, and respect for others. Others report that they develop the skills and attitudes needed to live harmoni-ously in communities that include diverse members.

Research demonstrates that children in inclusive situations achieve at levels equal to or above peers in noninclusive situations. Inclusive expe-riences promote improved response to other’s needs, tolerance of oth-ers, personal values, appreciation of human diversity, and status (Kliewer, 1998).

In summary, benefits of an inclusive leisure opportunity extend beyond lei-sure service providers and participants who have been disenfranchised. All peo-ple benefit from inclusion. Figure 10.1 provides a summary of the many benefits associated with inclusion and making positive contact with diverse people

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