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Providing equity in recreational athletic programs assures that everyone has an equal chance to participate and that no one is discriminated against for reasons such as gender, race, disability, age, religious or political beliefs, sexual orientation, social background or marital status. Equity tears down barriers that stand in the way of people who traditionally do not, or have not, taken part in sports or recreation programs.


A primary goal of gender and disability equity is to provide all individuals with the access and opportunity to take part in a full range of activities that will enable them to see their full potential. An equitable park and recreation department has systems and structures in place to prevent discrimination through language and images in publications and promotions that represent women and men and individuals of all abilities in a positive manner. Equitable departments should keep track of gender participation levels as well as participation levels of individuals with disabilities.


Increasing physical activity and encouraging healthy, active lifestyles will reduce the alarming rate of obesity in this country. We know that one in six children are obese and at risk for related health problems. One in three children are overweight. In addition, fewer than one in four children get 20 minutes of vigorous activity every day, but spend nearly six hours each day in front of a television or computer.


As stewards of our nation’s places and spaces, park and recreation leaders play a critical role in providing healthy lifestyle opportunities and more livable communities for those they serve.


Sports and physical activity opportunities provide innumerable benefits to children, including greater academic success, better physical and psychological health, responsible social behaviors, and enhanced interpersonal skills. Promoting physical activity will reduce the rate of childhood obesity and will lead to improved academic performance, behavior and health, thereby reducing healthcare costs for chronic diseases and sedentary lifestyles.


We know that women and people with disabilities do not have equal access to physical activity and athletic participation opportunities, yet the risks and problems associated with obesity and the lack of physical activity are greater and more prevalent among girls, women, and people with disabilities.


Gender Equity
The need to provide physical activity and athletic opportunities for girls is particularly important because one in six girls today are obese or overweight. Girls are significantly less likely than boys to participate in vigorous physical activity and sports teams; and they drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys. Despite advances in athletic opportunities for females since the passage of Title IX in 1972, discrimination still limits athletic opportunities for girls in community youth athletics.


These disparities extend beyond the classroom to park and recreation settings as well. The direct impact of Title IX on local park and recreation services and facilities is undocumented. However, it is reasonable to assume that the majority of parents, guardians or others responsible for children and youth want equal opportunities in education, training and recreation (including sports) for all girls and boys. The involvement of older siblings, relatives and friends involved in recreational or competitive sports and the exposure to active recreation and wellness messages reinforces the desire of children and adults to obtain gender equal opportunities in park and recreation programs and services.


NRPA advocates for the support Title IX and to enforce its provisions. We urge public park and recreation policymakers to provide facilities and services to achieve the statutory objective of Title IX: providing both female and male athletes with equitable opportunities to participate and access to quality services and treatment.


We further urge park and recreation policy makers, executives, program managers and planners to take all appropriate measures to ensure that the development of public facilities and implementation of programs sufficiently meets both male and female recreation needs.


Disability Equity
We know that sport and physical activity opportunities for males and females with disabilities are not provided at the same rate as those opportunities for individuals without disabilities in most park and recreation programs, yet these individuals need these opportunities the most.


Approximately 56 million (one in five) people in the United States have documented disabilities. Individuals with a disability are almost three times as likely to be sedentary as individuals without disabilities (29 percent vs. 10 percent). Fifty-six percent of people with disabilities do not engage in any physical activity, and only 23 percent of people with disabilities are active for thirty minutes three or more times per week.


More than 50 million individuals with disabilities face physical and service barriers that tend to discourage personal and professional development, diminish involvement in community life, and often constrain personal recreation. Access to recreation sites and programs for individuals with disabilities contributes to self-confidence, functional ability, independence and vocational skills.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the delivery of public park and recreation services by state and local governments. It prohibits discriminatory employment practices by employers. The ADA creates a right of equal access to privately owned or operated places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, offices, taverns, banks, amusement parks and non-profits such as YMCA’s and Boys and Girls Clubs.


In other areas not strictly related to the work of NRPA members, it prohibits discrimination in transportation, and broadcast and communication services. Newly constructed or altered public facilities, including public park and recreation sites, must also comply with accessibility guidelines developed by the U.S. Access Board.


NRPA has advocated for increased public investments to assure access to community-based services for persons with disabilities, including actions likely to result in improved physical and mental health; individual confidence in the ability to contribute importantly to society; and prevention of secondary medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and similar conditions.


Inclusive leisure experiences encourages people of varying abilities to participate and interact in life’s activities together with dignity. It also provides an environment that promotes and fosters physical, social and psychological inclusion of people with diverse experiences and skill levels. Inclusion enhances individuals’ potential for full and active participation in leisure activities and experiences.


Additionally, the benefits of ensuring disability equity may include:


  • Providing positive recreational experiences that contribute to the physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual growth and development of every individual.
  • Fostering peer and intergenerational relationships that allow one to share affection, support, companionship and assistance.
  • Developing community support and encouraging attitudinal changes to reflect dignity, self-respect and involvement within the community.
  • Reducing the strain on an already overburdened health care system by preventing health issues from arising through the development of recreation skills that build mind and body.


NRPA encourages all providers of park, recreation and leisure services to provide opportunities where people of all abilities can recreate and interact together. Doing so is not just the mandate of the ADA, it is the right thing to do.


Working on Solutions Together
The Women’s Sports Foundation has produced the public policy guide “Increasing Youth Sports and Physical Activity Participation.” Park and recreation departments, advocates and concerned individuals can use the guide to implement local and state laws and public policies that increase youth sports and physical activity participation and promote gender and disability equity in school and recreational athletic programs.


NRPA has worked with the Women’s Sports Foundation to develop this policy guide and will continue to work with other organizations to promote practices, policies and procedures to help park and recreation agencies offer programs and services to EVERYONE.


Article from Parks and Recreation Magazine


By Monica Hobbs Vinluan and Terri Lakowski

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