Tips For Developing Adaptive Recreation Programming

Published November 15, 2021

Recreational programming promotes health, well-being, and overall quality of life. Here we review tips for creating adaptive recreation programming for your community. 

Enlist support from professional facilitators

The development and implementation of adaptive recreation programming is much more inclusive and accessible with the involvement of facilitators that have specific knowledge and lived experience.

Adaptive recreation professionals can provide guidance in best practices, accessible equipment, and overcoming barriers to recreational activities, such as ensuring proper transportation is in place and recreational areas are accessible. They may also recommend inclusive practices and strategies for effective communication and safety − all critical to successful adaptive recreation.

The professional designation of these facilitators in the US is Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist.

Hiring qualified staff and training for accessible recreation

Staff should be well versed in the program mission and culture, and have the required knowledge and training. The hiring process for these staff members must focus on their experience, education, and commitment to accessibility and inclusion. Wherever possible, persons with lived experience should be included in recreation programs as they can bring valuable personal insights to the program.

Staff should also be trained in the best customer service principles and practices and have the tools and resources to accommodate diverse abilities and backgrounds. Finally, providers should maintain robust continuing education programs and have the ability to design recreation activities in a manner that enables cooperative collaboration from all participants.

Tips for providing adaptive recreation programming

In general, some helpful tips in developing adaptive recreation providers should consider include:

  • Having established accommodations and modifications processes in place.
  • Engaging the community and those with lived experiences to identify opportunities to create more inclusive programming. 
  • Identifying adaptive or specialized equipment that best serves the population.
  • Giving consideration to purchasing activity aids and materials that are adaptable to multiple recreation environments.
  • Researching adaptive recreation models that have experienced success, for example, St. Paul's Adaptive Recreation Program or Eugene, OR's Recreation Program.

In addition, providers should make safety and inclusion a priority - this requires taking into consideration the unique needs of all participants by incorporating a variety of precautions and best practices, such as:

  • Incorporating a blend of both sensory-rich and calmer activities, such as table-top gaming, music, and physical sports.
  • Providing various levels of participation and required physical activity to participate −  the intensity of adaptive recreation varies depending on activity, from very competitive and physical Paralympic sports such as wheelchair basketball to relaxation activities like yoga.
  • Creating safe and accessible spaces - recreation equipment and areas must meet ADA standards, and periodic maintenance and inspections of the recreational area must be performed to ensure regulatory compliance.
  • Purchasing and maintaining accessible equipment, such as accessible mats, Carpell surfaces, transfer systems, and ramps - providers should have the flexibility to identify and procure equipment based on the needs of the participants.
  • Building accessible facilities or modifying facilities to be accessible - some activities can be facilitated in existing facilities - for example, in Goalball, boundaries can be marked with fluorescent tape, and goals can be built with PVC and easily moved to new locations. 


As with any activity, organizations should engage participants to identify the best ways to accommodate and provide programming that fits the needs of their community. A great start to developing adaptive recreation programming is to engage the community at the local level and identify professionals in the industry that can share best practices and provide lived experiences.  

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