As everyone is aware by now, budget cuts are affecting nearly every aspect of our public life. Parks and recreational programs are no exception. Thurston County and the cities have been very good about including the handicapped in their recreational programs, but that could come to an end.
My last two columns showed two programs that I have found to be more than worthwhile — horse therapy for children and the inclusion program at the Senior Center. The two programs also highlighted the different types of disabilities that the people in this area have. Sadly, the disability frequently is used to define the person who has it.
Developmental disabilities do not stop at school age; they are a lifetime problem that can leave people left out, vulnerable and lonely. Autism and other brain disorders are frequently misunderstood, but interaction with other people and the acceptance of a friendly animal can often relieve many of the symptoms.
Learning disabilities often leave people feeling stupid, no matter how smart they are. Skeletal problems and bad back or legs leave people sidelined. They cannot walk as far, play ball or otherwise participate.
Recreational programs for the disabled, as well as those programs that include everyone, are important as they help us all to rise above barriers. I have been taking a water aerobics class in Lacey that has the disabled and able-bodied people together. A couple of people do very little and don’t understand the instructions, yet being in the pool with other people seems to be important to them and brings them pleasure.
I am at the other extreme, galloping about and having a very good time as the water cushions my joints. I only have problems when it is time to get out.
It can be quite soul refreshing to see the way that these programs work, the enjoyment that the participants are receiving. By being around others with your disability, you learn you are not alone. By being around others who are different from you, you learn acceptance and patience.
This is why I am concerned about possible budget cuts for recreation.
Often, it seems, the first programs to be cut are those serving the disabled. Yet a cut to a disabled swimming program is quite serious to a child who spends the rest of his or her life in a wheelchair. The child cannot run and play and get the good exercise we all need. Disabled children need the programs that allow them to use the muscles they can use. Without these programs children and adults can become weaker and need more physical therapy or medical attention.
The county budget for the year has been set but now next year’s funding is on the table. Of the money allocated this year, two-thirds came from user fees and registrations. Of the remaining third, it is split between the county general fund and the cities. The rest comes from the millage fund, which is made up of the public Health Department state grants for the developmentally disabled.
I urge people to be aware that public funding makes a large difference in the lives and health of our most vulnerable.
The county parks department is pushing for more inclusion. We need to affirm this push and do what we can to make sure there is funding for all.
We need to remember that small things, a ramp for instance, make large differences to the people who are disabled. If you are able to, I would urge readers to become active by contacting the PARC Foundation of Thurston County at www.parcfoundation.org and asking how you can be active in supporting handicapped access to all recreational facilities and programs.
Virginia Towne, a member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel, retired from the University of Washington as a computer programmer. Towne, who has personal experience with disabilities, can be reached at email@example.com.