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Field Trips & Extracurricular Activities Are Crucial in Accessibility Discussions

Take a moment to think about some of the best memories in school. I bet some of them involved taking a field trip. Maybe it was the first time you experienced a museum. Perhaps you were on a school trip when you learned about a career path that interested you. It is possible that a field trip allowed you to become closer to classmates you had never spoken to – and are still friends with to this day. Or maybe, learning about a topic outside of a classroom setting allowed you to finally gain a deeper, better understanding of the subject. 

According to the International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, “field trips offer an opportunity to motivate and connect students to appreciate and understand classroom concepts.” The journal states that providing first-hand experience and connecting classroom lessons to real-world situations often drastically improves a student’s understanding of a given topic. Seeing things outside the classroom can often make concepts they learn in class more tangible.

Despite the benefits of learning outside of the classroom – some with developmental and other disabilities may not be able to attend because the field trip is either somewhere inaccessible; the mode of transportation itself is not accessible or the district doesn’t provide the appropriate human support to make it successful. In 2019, a story went viral about a fourth-grader with spina bifida who uses a wheelchair for mobility.  The student had an interest in going on a field trip – but the trip would include navigating terrain that was not suitable for someone in a wheelchair. A teacher at the school purchased a harness so the student could be attached to the teacher’s back throughout the trip. While the teacher’s decision was likely made with a kind heart, people who have developmental and other disabilities deserve accessibility without having to rely on the generosity of people around them. It makes me wonder – what was the alternative to the student being on the teacher’s back for the entire trip? Would she have stayed home, or perhaps been placed back in a classroom for the day? Was she able to experience all the positive aspects of a field trip (socializing with friends, learning in a hands-on way) while attached to a teacher’s back? I wonder how  she felt having to be on the teacher’s back for an entire day? Teachers and administrators should be finding field trips that are accessible to all, and allow every student to get the most out of the day. 

What You, Teachers, and School Administrators Can Do

According to the Center for Autism Research (CAR), there are actions parents, students, and teachers can take to ensure going on a class trip is possible. Having conversations near the beginning of the school year (or sometime in the months leading up to the trip) is important. By meeting one-on-one or as a group, barriers can be discovered and hopefully solved before the week or day of the field trip. Some students may struggle with change and being in an unusual environment. CAR suggests showcasing photos of where the class will be going and discussing what will happen on the field trip. The goal is to help students understand what to expect and ease some of the anxiety that may come along with being in a new place. Also – allowing students to choose between two options on a field trip may be helpful. While this is not always possible at all times, allowing students to choose what they are comfortable with can ease the anxiety that may be present. Considering how a student can get the most out of a field trip instead of if they can go will allow the student to have a positive educational experience. 

As mentioned earlier, transportation can be a barrier between a student and an educational experience. According to Accommodations Solutions Online (ASO), some students may require special modes of transportation or equipment on that mode of transportation. While these buses and other modes of transportation can bring students to and from school on a day-to-day basis, many bus companies are not allowed to go outside of their designated area, and/or their bus schedule would not allow them to take students to and from a field trip. A parent/guardian bringing a student to the field trip may work out in some situations – as long as the parent doesn’t have to be at work. OSU states, “the services for students with disabilities office is responsible for notifying faculty of the student’s need for accommodation and providing the faculty and student with assistance in obtaining the specialized transportation, interpreters, or any other resources necessary to facilitate the student’s participating in the field trip.” To ensure field trips are accessible to all, school administrators must take action.  

Don’t Forget About Extracurricular Activities!

While not directly associated with field trips – studies show that extracurricular activities such as sports, clubs, and volunteer work have some of the same benefits of a field trip such as turning concepts into real-world experiences and making social connections. According to verywellfamily.com, “often, parents undervalue after-school activities for their special needs children. They may be more focused on their child’s academics or therapies or feel that there just isn’t time or money to bother with extracurriculars. While this attitude is understandable, there’s a good chance you’ll be robbing your child of opportunities that could make a major positive difference in their life.”

The article suggests that the first step a student could take is talking to others in the school about what extracurricular activities are available relating to one’s interests. Attend a meeting to make sure the activity is accessible and fun! Also – get a sense of what barriers may exist for you/your child if they are a part of the club or team. Often – clubs or teams will travel to other schools and venues for games and/or meetings so transportation once again becomes an important part of the conversation. 

A few types of activities that have grown in popularity in recent years are adaptive and unified sports. Adaptive sports allow modifications so that all can participate, while unified sports include people of all abilities on the same team. Both adaptive and unified activities can be a great way to make friends and participate in activities that match one’s interests! If you want to know if your school has adaptive/unified sports – ask a teacher or administrator at your/your child’s school. 

Stay tuned to our website, Facebook, and Instagram for an upcoming story about many of  the adaptive and unified sports programs throughout New Hampshire and beyond! If you know of an adaptive or unified sports program that you think deserves recognition, email Colby Dudal at Cdudal@communitycrossroadsnh.org

 

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