Part I: How to Identify Organizational Barriers to Inclusion

Outcome: By the end of this lesson you will have been introduced to common organizational barriers and provided with suggestions for how to remove those barriers so that your organization can become more inclusive to people with and without disabilities.

Lesson Length : 20 minutes


  1. Activity 1: Identify Barriers from the Parents Perspective
  2. Answer Pause and Reflect questions. 
  3. Activity 2: Identify Carriers from the Perspective of Youth-Care Providers.
  4. Answer Pause and Reflect questions. 

The PlayGarden started running inclusive programming in 2005. Since then the staff have heard stories from children  and adults with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities, siblings and other youth-care organizations about common barriers to inclusion. The barriers mentioned in this lesson have come directly from those conversations, interviews, focus groups,  and workshops.

Activity I: Barriers from the Parents Perspective

To start this activity, put yourself in the shoes of being a parent. Try to imagine what it would be like to be be a parent trying to sign your child up for a program or give advice to a program director. With the parent’s perspective in mind, read the following set of quotes from parents of children with disabilities.


  1. Identify the barrier(s) to inclusion.
  2. On a piece of scratch paper,  identify what kind of barrier it is. Use the list below to help you.  

Examples: Judgment, stigma,  negative perceptions, low  expectations. 

Examples: Staff knowledge, training, representation in marketing materials. 

Examples: Entrance fees, scholarships funds, cost of programs, funding for staff. 

Example: A program requires children to be toilet trained, a program requires all children to be within strict age requirements, a child must attend entire class, aides not welcome, only one way to demonstrate skills/knowledge.

Example: The physical space of a program is not physically accessible: pathways are too narrow for someone using a wheelchair to move through, program materials are offered in small font and hard for someone with low vision to access. 

Example: Little communication between families and program staff, lack of assistive technology. 

Read Parent Quotes and Identify the Type of Barrier

  • “The judgment of other parents is one of the biggest prohibitive factors for going out into the community. It shuts us down. I don’t want to keep feeling like a bad parent or like I’m perceived as a bad parent.”

  • “Loud noises, lines, and crowds are all so hard for us.”

  • “It really bothers me when I sign up for a class and ask if my son can bring an aide and get the response that it would be distracting to the other children. I consider my son’s aide a wheelchair. It comes with him and it’s what enables him to access the class. I have to say under ADA, they have to make that accommodation. Other kids don’t even notice.”

  • “Waiting in lines is hard. Also the cost. Having to pay for another person to participate in the activity such as paying for an aid at the zoo or aquarium . We need an extra person on all memberships, so someone else can come with us.”

  • “Judgment of other parents. He doesn’t look disabled so people assume he’s just a misbehaving kid and that’s really not the case.”

  • “We did a cooking class that was a disaster, mostly because of other parents trying to discipline my child. I appreciate offers of help, but hate it when people scold him directly and interfere with him.”

  • “Trust us as parents that we know what our children need.”

  • “I’m often uneasy when I call to ask if their place is going to work for my family. Do I tell them my daughter has autism and risk them saying no or do I just give it a try, knowing she might have trouble. I want to give them all the information, but I’m afraid she will be left out or treated differently because of her disability.”

Pause & Reflect

  1. What was the most common type of barrier expressed by parents of children with disabilities?  
  2. Are any of these barriers present in your organization?
  3. What do you think parents of a child with a disability would say about your organization?
  4. What strategies can you use to withhold judgment of parents and kids? How can you be an ally to families that are being judged?

Activity II: Barriers from the youth-care provider perspective

Now, put yourself in the shoes of a youth-care provider.  Maybe you are the administrator of an organization, a teacher, or program director, what are the biggest  barriers to inclusion you face?  


  1. Identify the barrier(s) to inclusion.
  2. On a piece of scratch paper,  identify what kind of barrier it is. Use the list below to help you.  

Read Provider Quotes and Identify the Type of Barrier

  • “One of our biggest barriers is having sufficient staffing to adequately support high intensity needs.”

  • “Barriers for us are mostly societal barriers and lack of accessibility.”

  • “There are some group settings we have that are noisy and chaotic.  This is not ideal for some kids.  I do not want to exclude anyone, but also don’t want to subject kids to an environment that they are not equipped to handle. Limited staffing and limited space is most likely the issue for our location, as we cannot separate groups to ensure the environment is not overwhelming.”

  • “We have stairs in our play garden space where our nature-based program is based. We also have uneven terrain.”

  • “Most importantly, I don’t think that my two directors want to put the time/money/energy into making the space accessible to children with disabilities.”

  • “It’s solely me running it and a fear/challenge I face is not being adequately prepared for a child with a particular disability.”

  • “I would want to “do my homework” on the specific disability and how it is affecting the particular child and I’m not sure of which resources would be best to learn this information (other than asking the parents themselves, which I feel comfortable doing).”

  • “For us, our barrier is that our programs are all outdoors and these spaces are very able-bodied centric.”

  • “Our biggest barriers are staff knowledge, training, and comfort level.”

Pause & Reflect

  1. What is the most common type of barrier expressed by youth-care providers? 
  2. Are these barriers present in your organization?
  3. Are the barriers parents expressed different or similar to those expressed by youth-care providers? Why might this be?