Perceptions of Programming Needs for Inclusive Leisure Services


  • John Dattilo Penn State University
  • Gary N. Siperstein
  • Emily D. McDowell
  • Stuart J. Schleien
  • Emily B. Whitaker
  • Martin E. Block
  • Mark Spolidoro
  • Jessie Bari
  • Aron Hall



Inclusion, leisure, recreation, programming, perceptions, best practices


Leisure involves people engaging in structured and unstructured activities in community settings. Despite the myriad benefits of leisure participation, some people do not have opportunities to use their free time in a satisfying manner. Although most professionals consider inclusion to be an important goal of leisure services, many agencies do not welcome or offer unwelcoming or inaccessible services to people who are marginalized and/or oppressed as a result of various characteristics (e.g., ability, economic resources, age, gender, religion, ethnicity, race, sexuality). There is a need for research that highlights facilitators to inclusive leisure services. This study is part of a larger initiative to identify best practices in structured inclusive leisure programs and to develop an accreditation process with standards that reflect evidence-based practices. To this end, a focus group allowed a team of professionals to share its knowledge and experiences with inclusive leisure services. Focus group participants were eight members of the accreditation development team. The following lead request drove the discussion: Please describe services you consider best practices for inclusive leisure services. The focus group, lasting approximately three hours, was audio-recorded and transcribed. Following the constant comparative analytic framework, researchers identified patterns in data and relationships between concepts. Member check sessions providing opportunities for participants to provide input on codes, categories, and themes. Seven themes emerged: (a) participation, (b) social connections, (c) enjoyment, (d) choice, (e) competence, (f) social responsibility, and (g) learning. The themes of participation and social connections are primary themes because of the extensiveness of examples and emphasis discussants placed on them. Although several participants have expertise associated with inclusion of people with disabilities, their expertise and comments during the focus group encompassed other characteristics that often result in challenges to leisure (e.g., economic resources, age, gender, religion, ethnicity, race, sexuality). Results encourage practitioners to deliver inclusive leisure services by making accommodations to ensure all participants regardless of characteristics experience leisure, and by intentionally fostering social connections to help participants develop meaningful relationships. Focus group members emphasized the importance of leisure service providers creating enjoyable experiences, encouraging all participants to make choices, instilling a sense of competence in participants, modeling and rewarding social responsibility, and teaching a variety of skills. By following these best practices, practitioners can actively promote social inclusion across various leisure experiences for all community members 





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