Despite advances in opportunity, people who are deaf still need more

Including people who are deaf in recreation: despite advances in opportunity, people who are deaf still need more

Jo Ann Coco-Ripp

People who are deaf play tennis, take their children to soccer games and like to camp, just like anybody else. However, including people who are deaf in public park and recreation programs has not yet reached the successful levels that consumers and providers both envision. So what makes these recreation experiences appear more difficult to facilitate? A review of the literature seems to suggest three distinct areas that are problematic when providing recreation for people who are deaf. Before discussing the impact of communication, deaf identity and social skills on recreation provision, readers need to understand the importance of inclusive recreation.

Inclusive Recreation

Inclusive recreation means providing services that offer everyone involved a full range of choice, social connections and support as well as the opportunity to reach their potential. Among the numerous explanations that can be cited to support offering inclusive recreation services, McAvoy (2000) states three reasons: the legal mandate; it makes good marketing sense; it supports social justice.

In addition to these solid reasons, inclusive recreation offers the potential for positive intergroup contact within a cooperative atmosphere that exists to a greater degree in recreation than in many other venues such as the workplace. Allison (2000) extends the reasons for increasing efforts in the area of recreation inclusion to the broad area of increased organizational effectiveness by enhancing morale, productivity and individual growth. Support for inclusive recreation services can also be found in the literature of health and quality of life. Leisure involvement is a fundamental dement to life satisfaction and critical to any person’s achievement of a healthy quality of life (Fine, 1996).

Obstructions to Inclusive Recreation

Even with a strong foundation to support inclusive recreation, evidence of obstructions, particularly for individuals who are deaf, are present. Numerous studies involving children who are deaf and those who are hard of hearing demonstrate the lack of success that inclusive efforts have had (Kluwin, Stinson, & Colarossi, 2002; Oliva, 2004a; Stinson & Foster, 2000).

Even those adults who are deaf or hard of hearing and well-educated, offer examples of the social isolation and lack of inclusion that still exists. Oliva (Oliva & Simonsen, 2000), who is deaf, stated that despite academic, professional and personal success, the sense of belonging and social inclusion at national conferences and other large group events is elusive even when functional inclusion is accomplished. Evidence that people who are deaf or hard of hearing have not been fully included in recreation programs or facilities, is the lack of compliance with minimum regulations at the physical level, such as visual alert systems or closed captioning for movies (ADA Web site, 2004; Coco-Ripp, 1998).

From a national survey of park and recreation departments, Devine and Kotowski (1999) found several broad areas that explain why inclusive recreation services are limited. Financial restraints, lack of training and the role of qualified staff were key findings in that report. McAvoy (2000) offers that agencies often unknowingly create barriers or an organizational climate that is unwelcoming or exclusionary. Policies, practices and procedures are created that often inadvertently exclude people from participation.

An approach that is inclusive could be creating a policy across the agency that all routine communication be provided in more than one format; for example, use written memos and verbal methods for daily announcements.

Another indication of welcome for people who are deaf or hard of hearing would be publishing the TTY or relay number on marketing materials of the organization.

These examples demonstrate obstructions to inclusive recreation exist but they are not insurmountable. Consideration of the impact of communication, deaf identity and social skills on recreation provision will assist in the unique challenges of providing recreation for people who are deaf.


The use of interpreters or other means for effective communication is the first thought that many recreation professionals have when discussing the provision of recreation for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Indeed, effective communication is vital to successful inclusive recreation; however, access to communication is only the beginning. Advanced technology, the expanding number of high school and college classrooms where American sign language is taught (Bauman, 2004), and the increased awareness of the physical environment creates understanding that effective communication needs to be ongoing–not static.

Recreation has many unique communication challenges in the specificity of language used for activities and facilities, as well as terminology that is germane to locations such as parks, playing fields, pools or stadiums. Managers should plan for ongoing training and continual focus on effective communication techniques, as opposed to doing a short-term training session or a one-time class. This will meet the needs for communication more efficiently and produce successful outcomes in inclusive recreation settings (Antia, Stinson & Gaustad, 2002).

Deaf Identity

For the past few years, opposing perspectives of deaf identity have been reported and discussed. One perspective defines deaf as a pathology; a disorder, or a medical condition to be fixed. However, an increasing number claim deaf to be a distinct cultural group with its own beliefs, needs, opinions, customs and languages (Munoz-Baell & Ruiz, 2000). Some authors cite the growing tensions in this area as a challenge to positive action (Antia, Stinson, & Gaustad, 2002; Luckner & Stewart, 2003). Mackelprang and Salsgiver (1999) present two different perspectives or models that would serve the needs of people who are deaf more effectively than the medical or disability model.

The social/cultural model of deafness can be best understood as a function of interaction between the individual and society. Barriers experienced by people who are deaf result from social, language and cultural differences between majority and minority groups. The political model of deafness focuses on the power differences between hearing and deaf people. Sociopolitical institutions are controlled by hearing people who impose their definitions of the meaning of deafness on deaf people. As a result, deaf people must fight for their civil rights to overcome devaluation and oppression imposed by the dominant society. (Mackelprang & Salsgiver, 1999, pp. 105-6)

Continuing an open dialogue about the perspectives from which to view the concept of deaf identity will enhance the provision of inclusive recreation. It appears that either model has greater potential than the medical model to yield results for improving social accessibility tbr people who are deaf. Despite the unresolved nature of this discussion on deaf identity, there appears to he agreement in the third area of social skills.

Social Skills

The agreement begins with the realization that deaf children and adults are experiencing isolation and dismal social lives across academic and co-curricular mainstreamed or inclusive settings (Coco-Ripp, 2003; Kluwin, 1999; McIntosh, 2000; Oliva, 2004a). On the surface, deaf and hearing students report communicating effectively but fail to establish close friendships. Oliva (2004b) shares that unfavorable environmental conditions such as poor lighting or background noise are not conducive to hallway conversations that foster friendships. Further, she states that an interpreter’s presence creates a psychological barrier between a deaf student and classmate that inhibits informal chats. Social skill development occurs in the hallways and gyms of the school as well as in participation outside school. With the difficulties in mainstreamed academic settings, recreation programs are ideal areas to structure the acquisition of social skills and provide positive interaction opportunities beyond the school door for students.

Adults also report difficulties in social interactions between hearing and deaf that carry over from their school experiences to their current lives. Brueggemann (1999), Keane-Dawes (1997) and Wright (1999) echo the same theme in the extensive descriptions of their own experiences fitting in with the hearing world. Each author provides personal vignettes illustrating struggles and triumphs. Luckner and Stewart (2003) report on videotaped interviews of 14 deaf adults nominated by their peers as successful. Self-determination and family involvement are two recommendations the participants offer as part of their success stories. Recreation can incorporate opportunities for adults in a variety of programs to foster self determination and family involvement.

Research informs us that consideration of the impact of communication, deafidentity and social skills on recreation provision will assist in the unique challenges of providing recreation for people who are deaf.


ADA Home Page. (2004). U. S. Department of Justice. [on-line:].

Allison, M. T. (2000). Diversity in organizational perspective. In M. T. Allison & I. E. Schneider (Eds.), Diversity and the recreation profession: Organizational perspectives (pp. 3-18). State College, PA: Venture Publishing, Inc.

Antia, S. D., Stinson, M. S. & Gaustad, M. G. (2002). Developing membership in the education of deaf and hard of hearing students in inclusive settings. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 7, 214-229.

Balch, G. I. & Mertens, D. M. (1999). Focus group design and group dynamics: Lessons from deaf and hard of hearing participants. American Journal of Evaluation, 20, 265-277.

Bauman, H-D. L. (2004). Audism: Exploring the metaphysics of oppression. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 9, 239-246.

Bedini, L. A. & Stone, C. F. (2000). Training for diversity. In M. T. Allison & I. E. Schneider (Eds.), Diversity and the recreation profession: Organizational perspectives (pp. 235-262). State College, PA: Venture Publishing, Inc.

Brueggemann, B. J. (1999). Lend me your ear: Rhetorical constructions of deafness. Washington, D. C.: Gallaudet University Press.

Coco-Ripp, J. A. (2003). The effect of awareness training and planned contact on the provision of an inclusive environment for persons who are deaf. DAI-B 64 (06), 2631. (AAT 3094280)

Coco-Ripp, J. A. (1998). Ethnographic environmental survey of accessibility for persons who are deaf in selected recreation facilities. Unpublished document, University of Utah.

Devine, M. A. & Kotowski, L. (1999). Inclusive leisure services: Results of a national survey of park and recreation departments. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 17(4), 54-72.

Fine, A. H. (1996). Leisure, living, and quality of life. In R. Renwick, I. Brown, & M. Nagler (Eds.), Quality of life in health promotion and rehabilitation (pp. 342-354). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Keane-Dawes, J. M. (1997). Responses of Jamaican and American Deaf Groups to Stigma. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.

Kluwin, T. N. (1999). Coteaching deaf and hearing students: Research on social integration. American Annals of the Deaf, 144, 339-344.

Kluwin, T. N., Stinson, M. S. & Colarossi, G. M. (2002). Social process and outcomes of in-school contact between deaf and hearing peers.

Luckner, J. L. & Stewart, J. (2003). Self assessments and other perceptions of successful adults who are deaf: An initial investigation. American Annals of the Deaf, 148, 243-250.

Mace, R. L. (1998). A perspective on Universal Design. UD Newsline Quarterly Newsletter of the Center for Universal Design, 2(1), 2-5.

Mackelprang, R. & Salsgiver, R. (1999). Disability: A diversity model approach in human service practice. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

McAvoy, L. H. (2000). Disability as diversity: The role of recreation in quality of life. In M. T. Allison & I. E.

Schneider (Eds.), Diversity and the recreation profession: Organizational perspectives (pp. 47-72). State College, PA: Venture Publishing, Inc.

McIntosh, A. (2000). When the deaf and the hearing interact: Communication features, relationships, and disability issues. In D. O. Braithwaite & T. L. Thompson (Eds.), Handbook of communication and people with disabilities. Research and application (pp. 353-368). Mahwah, N. J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Munoz-Baell, I. M. & Ruiz, M. T. (2000). Empowering the deaf. Let the deaf be deaf. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 54, 40-44.

National Association of the Deaf. (2000). Legal rights: The guide for deaf and hard of hearing people. Washington, D. C.: Gallaudet University Press.

Oliva, G. A. (2004a). Alone in the mainstream: A deaf woman remembers public school Washington, B. C.: Gallaudet University Press.

Oliva, G. A. (2004b). Hear and now. Parks & Recreation, 5, 54-60.

Oliva, G. A. & Simonsen, A. (2000). Re-thinking leisure services for deaf and hard of hearing persons: A new paradigm. Parks & Recreation, 5, 78-85.

Stinson, M. S. & Foster, S. (2000). Socialization of deaf children and youths in school. In P. E. Spencer, C. J. Erting, & M. Marschark (Eds.), The deaf child in the family and at school (pp. 191-210). Mahwah, N. J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Wright, M. H. (1999). Sounds Like Home: Growing Up Black and Deaf in the South. Washington, D. C.: Gallaudet University Press.


Here are selected resources for more information about people who are deaf:


8455 Colesville Road

Suite 935

Silver Spring, MD 20910

Voice (800)227-0216

TTY (301) 608-8912


Information and referral project that maintains a database of 25,000-plus assistive technology products; also, fact sheets on types of devices and other aspects of assistive technology.

Association of Late-Deafened Adults

10310 Main Street #274

Fairfax, VA 22030

TTY (404) 289-1596

Supports empowerment of people who become deaf as adults; resources, information, advocacy, awareness of needs of late-deafened adults.

Gallaudet University

800 Florida Avenue NE

Washington, DC 20002-3695

The only liberal arts college in the world that provides higher education to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Gallaudet offers a number of graduate degrees and certificates, including an new M.S. in Leisure Services Administration. One criterion for acceptance is that an applicant must have at least intermediate sign language skills. For more information, contact Dr. Carol C. Riddick, phone/TTY 202.651.5591 or e-mail

National Association of the Deaf

814 Thayer Ave.

Silver Spring, MD 20910-4500

Voice (301) 587-1788

TTY (301) 587-1789


Largest organization in the nation with the mission to promote, protect and preserve the rights and quality of life of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through grassroots advocacy; focus on information, publications, legal assistance, public awareness, policy development and research.

Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc.

7910 Woodmont Ave. Suite 1200

Bethesda, MD 20814

Voice (301) 657-2248

TTY (301) 657-2249


Promotes awareness, information, communication, assistive devices, and alternative communication skills through publications, exhibits and presentations

USA Deaf Sports Federation

3607 Washington Boulevard, #4

Ogden, UT 84403-1737

TTY (801) 393-7916


Governing body for all deaf sports and recreation in the country; sponsors US teams to World Games for the Deaf and other regional, national and international competitions.

World Recreation Association

of the Deaf, Inc.

P.O. Box 92074

Rochester, NY 15692

Established to foster development of innovations in recreational and cultural activities for the deaf and hard of hearing.



Key findings for recreation providers from a study using a focus group designed to evaluate group dynamics (Balch & Mertens, 1999):

* The physical environment in group communication counts more than we usually notice; consider the visual impact when setting up rooms, gyms or other facilities.

* Insuring communication requires a high level of vigilance; make it a priority in all situations especially meetings, gatherings, entryways and halls.

* Genuine communication may require more time and patience than one might expect; design programs and plan sessions with extra time to include all persons.

* Feedback from observers, evaluators and participants can improve communication; plan for constructive feedback; ask for it and then act on it.

Staff Training

To incorporate awareness of deaf identity into recreation and enhance opportunities for social skill development, authors continue to strongly encourage effective and frequent training programs for staff, parents, advocates, volunteers and others involved (Bedini & Stone, 2000). One program that has been developed for training staff adapts the Principles of Universal Design (Mace, 1998) as a guideline in providing inclusive recreation environments. Coco-Ripp (2003) found the guidelines to be equally effective in lecture or interactive methods of training for staff. Examples of the guidelines for recreation programs:

1. Guideline: Eliminate unnecessary complexity.

Example: Provide vibrating pagers for occasions where people wait in line such as skating rinks or play auditions.

2. Guideline: Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.

Example: Provide scores for sports competitions in a visual format throughout the event and in the facilities.

3. Guideline: Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.

Example: Provide self-guided tours (such as those at historical sites) that can be done with an audio tape, a written guide-sheet, or a video that can be seen prior to taking the tour.

4. Guideline: Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

Example: Provide verification in more than one format that registration has been accepted when someone is signed up for a class or event.

5. Guideline: Maximize legibility of essential information.

Example: Provide illumination for signs outside and inside the facility.

Jo Ann Coco-Ripp, Ph.D., CTRS is a visiting assistant professor of Leisure Studies at Oklahoma State University. Her interests include researching and training for deaf and recreation. She is also available to do onsite training programs for recreation staff or volunteers. For more information e-mail her at

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