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The power of movement in the group and individual activities have been known to be essential for people of all abilities and fitness levels. Participating in physical activities at a level that allows success for the individual gives people, including those identified with disabilities, the chance to be free of limitations by learning to rise above challenges. It also helps erase stereotypes as people’s awareness and attitudes change. Incorporating adventure-based and experiential activities in fitness and educational programs promote life-long physical wellness and inclusion.
The lure of adventure is not hard to identify. The truth is, the glory is in the doing, not in the finishing. Physical and group activities in Adventure Education can be seen as metaphors for situations that the individual with a disability may face in their daily lives. It teaches the value of positive attitudes and emphasizes ability versus inability or disability. Adventure Education is often termed “Experiential Education,” the concept of which empowers participants to develop creative potential, encourages forms of expression and offers a wide range of “hands-on” activities. Many public schools are attempting to design physical education programs that include principles and elements of Adventure Education.
Adventure Education has gained considerable momentum over the past 25-30 years.
The challenges can be great as public schools attempt to gather support and implement new programming, while also meeting the ever-changing national and state-level educational standards, local funding issues, and facility and liability issues. Adventure or experiential programming in PE can be designed to allow all students to participate safely at their level of comfort and ability. It can successfully include those identified with physical, developmental, emotional, and cognitive disabilities. Physical educators must learn how to implement adaptations for students with disabilities that are safe and effective, thus adding another dimension of challenge. By doing so the core values of Adventure Education are modeled: trust-building, inclusion, problem-solving, teamwork, and rising above barriers for all involved. The success of dealing with curriculum design, safety, inclusion, and funding issues takes creativity, collaboration, and cooperation among staff and administrators in new program development at public schools. Although Adventure Education has been in existence for many years, programming for people who have disabilities is fairly new.
The term “disability” implies a limitation of function by an individual with impairment in comparison to age-related peers. These disabilities may fall under the emotional, cognitive, or developmental domains, and include the conditions of Down syndrome, multiple disabilities, autism, traumatic brain injury, speech/language impairment, emotional disability, blindness, deafness, learning disability, and other health impairment. Possible reasons cited for excluding people with disabilities from Adventure Education activities include “they can’t do that, they might get hurt; it’s too hard,” and/or “they wouldn’t like it anyway” There can be a paradox between the desire to protect people with disabilities, and allowing the possible risk that comes when making their own decisions, when doing difficult tasks, or when being independent. So often people are perceived and judged on their physical limitations, versus the nature of what they can do and the spirit they contain.
In Adventure Education, there are often concerns from both instructors and participants of how to keep the participants safe, and how to communicate with and integrate someone with physical, emotional, or learning limitations. The leadership and attitude of the instructor will often set the pace for the participants in terms of how they will perceive and include a participant with a disability.
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