Paralympic Champion Speaks at 11th Annual National Institute on Recreation Inclusion

More than 230 people from around the United States gathered in Schaumburg, Ill., for the 11th Annual National Institute on Recreation Inclusion (NIRI). Hosted by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), NIRI is a 3-day event, which provides hands-on learning though workshops and training, as well as a forum for discussion on inclusion and accessibility issues related to parks and recreation.

“Inclusive recreation is one of the fastest growing needs in more and more parks and recreation agencies across the United States,” Elizabeth Kessler, 2009-2010 NRPA president, stated in a press release.

At the Opening General Session on the morning of Nov. 8, keynote speaker and Paralympic champion and attorney Linda Mastandrea presented her life story, from growing up as a child with a disability who had no opportunity to participate in sports, to ending up as a Paralympic and world champion athlete. From 1990 to 1999, Mastandrea represented the United States at two Paralympic Games, three World Championships, the Pan American Games and the Stoke-Mandeville Wheelchair Games, winning 15 gold medals and 5 silver medals in wheelchair track.

Excellence in Inclusion Awards, honoring people, organizations and programs who have rendered service to the inclusion process, were presented to one individual, Mark Bowland, community services manager for Kansas City, Mo., Parks and Recreation, and one agency, the Park District Risk Management Agency in Wheaton, Ill.

“Guided by the principle that recreation is a primary building block for individuals, Bowland works diligently to advocate for the people of his community and ensure that recreation is provided to all of Kansas City’s residents,” Mary Bowie, 2010 NIRI awards committee chair, and therapeutic recreation coordinator for the Maryland-National Capital Planning Commission in Mitchellville, Md. stated “We are pleased to honor him for his many achievements.”

The 2010 Gonzaga da Gama Award—named after the professor and inclusion advocate of the same name — was awarded to Stuart Schleien, PhD, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

“Dr. Schleien has been a pioneer in studying and promoting inclusion of people with disabilities in leisure services before most of us even knew it as inclusion,” Mary Ann Devine, MD award presenter and 2009 Gonzaga da Gama winner, associate professor for Kent State University, stated. “He mentored many of today’s researchers and practitioners on studying and providing effective inclusive services, promoting the rights of individuals with disabilities in leisure settings and challenging the status quo.”

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