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A Statewide Needs Assessment Using Focus Groups: Perceived Challenges and Goals in Providing Inclusive Recreation Services in Rural Communities

Lynn Anderson, Linda Heyne

Abstract


The purposes of this study were two-fold: (a) to explore the use of focus groups as a method of conducting a statewide needs assessment and (b) to conduct a statewide needs assessment on the recreation needs, constraints, and recommendations related to serving persons with disabilities in community settings. Inclusion of people with disabilities in community-based recreation is beneficial to all people. Despite the benefits, constraints continue to exist. Continual assessment at a statewide level helps providers understand the interests and needs of citizens. The focus group format was an excellent means of assessing needs, as well as an effective way to connect service providers with people with disabilities, and rural residents with urban service providers. The format also yielded results with much greater detail and intensity of feeling than traditional surveys. Results of the needs assessment showed persistent constraints for people with disabilities and service providers. These constraints included lack of awareness, acceptance, and information about people with disabilities; lack of prepared recreation staff, social inclusion, and physical access; and lack of communication and networking between various service agencies and consumers. Focus group participants, comprised of providers and consumers, generated viable strategies to address the constraints. The majority of the strategies focused on increased communication among service providers and constituents through training, education, or networking.

Study implications relate to the use of focus groups as a method of conducting needs assessments and to the inclusion of people with disabilities in community recreation. First, focus groups proved to be a viable and rich method for parks and recreation professionals to conduct needs assessments. Focus groups allowed service providers to hear firsthand accounts of community needs and concerns, potentially uncovering unmet needs and generating solutions that had not been considered. By listening to community needs in a personal way, trusting relationships were built with constituents. Furthermore, focus groups introduced participants to each other, gave people an opportunity to exchange ideas, encouraged community spirit, and increased the likelihood of forming spontaneous community partnerships and networks, which is especially critical in rural areas with less recreational infrastructure. Second, this study pointed to the need for ongoing education about inclusion and people with disabilities. The study also pointed to the need to create active, productive networks of service providers, including parks/recreation services, human services, and people with disabilities and their families.


Keywords


inclusion, focus groups, people with disabilities, needs assessment, recreation, therapeutic recreation, rural

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