Back to the Section IV Introduction
Back to the Table of Contents

Community Membership

For most people, living a satisfying adult life means participating fully not only in work but also in the community. Individuals with disabilities as members of American society, should be extended the same rights and benefits as well as the same responsibilities as nondisabled members of society.

It is commonly thought that integration from a young age leads to greater independence in adulthood. However, independence may be overemphasized to the point that we forget about the importance of interdependence. We depend on one another for emotional support, assistance in getting new jobs, learning, laughter -- the list is endless. Participation in the following will enable individuals to belong to the circle of their community:


Voting is one way for an individual to exercise choice and to have a voice in community, state, and federal affairs. For individuals with disabilities, voting often has a particular significance since the position of a successful candidate directly affects services and funds that are available.

The law says that in order to vote, an individual must be 18, a U.S. citizen, a resident of the municipality in which he/she wishes to register, and not under the guardianship of others.

One can register to vote by mail or in person at the local city/town hall. When voting, a warden, inspector, or clerk is available to assist any individual in voting (e.g., if he/she cannot read the ballot). Additionally, an individual with an evident disability is permitted to bring his/her own assistant into the voting booth. If the disability is not evident, a doctor's letter is required. Finally, anyone can request an absentee ballot, complete it at home, and send it in. If an individual has a disability that always makes it simpler to vote by absentee ballot, most city/town offices will accept a letter from a doctor and automatically send an absentee ballot for every election. Call your local city or town hall for more information.

Have You Thought About This?  (for Voting) 
  • Does the student know where to register to vote? 
  • Does the student have some proof of age and residency? 
  • Does the student want to vote by absentee ballot? 
  • Is the student able to vote independently? 
  • Will the student need someone to go with him/her to vote or will local officials be able to assist him/her? 
  • Is the student's polling place accessible? 
  • Does the student have someone to explain the issues to him/her when they are not clear? 

Safety and Protection

Individuals in transition should be aware of general safety issues. Unfortunately, the subject is sometimes difficult to communicate to young people. They may not always understand, for example, why it can be dangerous to divulge too much information to strangers (e.g., giving out their address at a bus stop late at night). One of the best ways to teach safety is to describe situations that may make individuals feel uncomfortable and advise them about what to do in that type of situation. It is also important to give youth as much information as possible, in ways they will understand. It is not enough to say, "don't ride with strangers," if the consequence of things such as kidnapping, rape, and murder are not also explained.
Have You Thought About This?  (for Safety and Protection) 
  • Does the student know how and when to use 911? 
  • If 911 is not available in your area, does the student know the number for the fire/police stations or where to find these numbers? 
  • Does the student know what to do in case of fire? in case of an accident? 
  • Does the student know what the accessible fire escape plan is from school? from home? from work? 
  • Does the student know his/her address? 
  • Does the student have someone to call on for assistance (e.g., to find a rape crisis center or abuse hotline)? 



Recreation is crucial for the physical and mental well-being of all people. Often, recreation for individuals with disabilities is called "therapeutic," but really, recreation is therapeutic (and necessary!) for everyone. Remember that participation in activities can be an individual pursuit (e.g., gardening, painting) or a group activity (e.g., basketball, homemaker's club), while other activities may require both individual and group participation (e.g., private music lessons, independent practice, playing in a community band).

When transitioning from school to adult life, students should consider their interests as well as the changing options for their specific age group. For example, people without disabilities typically do not go to summer camp beyond the age of 14 or 15 unless they become counselors in training (CITs) or counselors. Also, remember that all options that are available to individuals without disabilities are available to individuals with disabilities. Since the passage of the ADA, one need not only consider special activities but one can consider the full array of community options. Finally, don't set limitations by thinking that certain activities would be impossible (e.g., that someone who uses an electric wheelchair can't ski). For every activity imaginable, someone has come up with a way to adapt it with or without the use of specialized equipment. For information about activities or organizations that support specific activities or provide specialized equipment, contact

The Information Center
Fort Point Place
27-43 Wormwood Street
Boston, MA 02210-1606
(617) 727-5540
(800) 462-5015 Voice and TTY

The Spaulding Community Access Line
Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital
125 Nashua Street
Boston, MA 02114
(617) 720-6659 (voice)
(617) 722-6244 (TTY)

Because existing options in towns and communities vary so much it is impossible to list all the options here. However, some general tips are listed below and a variety of specific ideas are suggested in "133 Things to Do in Your Free Time."

133 Things to Do in Your Free Time 

go for a walk, build a sand castle, go sledding, make cookies, read a book to yourself, read a book to someone else, go to a club, go to a bar, fly a kite, go to a disco, take ballroom dancing lessons, check universities for ethnic folk dancing events, have a food fight, go for a picnic, build a clubhouse, dig a flower bed, check out a video from the library, watch an old movie on TV, make a collage, push a friend in a lake, go biking, watch the ships come in, go to an art museum, learn to ski, learn to swim, take a trip to a historical site, go snorkeling, go to a park and relax, go out for ice cream, go out for dinner, go to the movies, go to a play, put on a play, try something new, go scuba diving, learn CPR, take a computer class, join a singing group, take a music lesson, learn amateur radio, listen to music, go to a concert, hang out with friends, build a model train, make something out of clay, go to the mall, paint, make dinner for a friend, play baseball, play soccer, go bowling, shoot a few baskets, go for a scenic drive, go shopping, try hang gliding, play tennis, go ice skating, start a game of volleyball, toss a ball, climb a mountain, try curling, go camping, play shuffleboard, play cards, play a board game, go to a pet store, volunteer at the humane society, organize a neighborhood clean-up and picnic, organize your old photos, talk to an older relative, write a letter, draw a picture, go on a date, talk on the phone, buy a present for someone, pick wildflowers and arrange them, plant a tree, play golf, build a snowperson, throw stones into a stream, enter a pie-eating contest, watch a parade, go to a flea market, go to an auto show, go to a county fair, celebrate an occasion, go to a transportation museum, go to an aquarium, travel abroad, travel locally, introduce yourself to your neighbor, visit a national park, have a barbecue, visit a state park, go for a run, write a poem, go rafting, go to a baseball game, go to a football game, drive a remote control vehicle, go to the horse races, watch a marathon, run a 5K, walk a 5K, play in the rain, take a hot bath, watch a monster truck show, ride a horse, play with a pet, feed a squirrel, build a birdhouse, paint a fence, skateboard, get a new haircut, get your nails done, go to a late late show, go to a record store, learn to fly, take a train ride, go out for pizza, make a pizza, order take-out food for dinner, put up a hammock, go out for breakfast, play badminton, swing, make brunch for a friend, sleep in, go to a zoo, go for a boat ride, work out in a gym, take an aerobic class, go to a dog show 



Friendship Most people understand the importance of friendship and can meet people and develop friendships with ease. For others, this is more difficult. Often, mere participation in work or an activity will assist an individual in developing friends (see example below). The natural development of closeness through mutual interests is the most effective way to find and maintain friends.

If developing a friendship does not occur naturally, it may be worthwhile to arrange a meeting between an individual with a disability and other community members. Depending on the age of the individual, this might be done by contacting the local university or local civic or religious organizations, explaining the situation, and asking for the names and numbers of community members who may be interested in meeting someone new. For more information, a good resource is Making School and Community Recreation Fun for Everyone: Places and Ways to Integrate, edited by M. Sherril Moon, available from Paul H. Brookes Publishing, (800) 638-3775.

Finally, it is important to remember that friendships are reciprocal. It cannot always be the individual without the disability who entertains or makes the plans. If an individual has difficulty initiating, someone else may be able to do it for him/her, or the situation could be explained to people with whom he/she is developing relationships.

Making Friends -- Naturally! 

Kathy was 19 when she began taking aerobics classes at the local YMCA. She had been taking beginning classes for almost a year and really wanted to move to a more advanced class but was afraid the movements would be too difficult. The aerobics instructor said she would make sure to explain all the moves clearly and assured Kathy that it would be OK. 

Kathy finally joined the class and did find some of the moves to be complicated. With Kathy's permission, the aerobics instructor asked a woman who had been a member at the YMCA since her childhood to keep an eye on Kathy and help her out when needed. With Shaia's assistance, Kathy soon caught on. Shaia began talking to Kathy in the locker room after class and one day they went out for frozen yogurt after their workout. They soon discovered that they both had a passion for pizza and movies and did not live too far from each other. Eventually Kathy and Shaia met on a regular basis to go to the movies or out for dinner. They still take aerobics and have recently signed up for a weightlifting class together. 

 Community Mem


Relationships and Dating

This is the dilemma that thousands of individuals with disabilities have to face every day. All too frequently, their questions and concerns are not heard because sex education and discussions about dating or marriage never enter their lives. Relationships are either not thought of as a priority ("She's in a special ed. classyou think she's going to have a relationship?!?") or as a possibility ("He can't even move his legshow can he have sex?!?"). However, it is crucial to provide the same type of sex education to individuals with disabilities as to others, especially in these times when sexual activity occurs at younger and younger ages and the number of individuals infected with HIV is increasing steadily.

As an adult living independently, an individual should know about the consequences of sex so he/she can make an informed decision about birth control. Likewise, he/she should know how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Many schools and/or parents are reluctant to teach children, regardless of their ability, about these topics because it is against their religious or moral beliefs. When making this decision on behalf of a child with a disability, one must remember that as children get older they tend to learn this information from books, television, other children, or other adults after they leave home. Some individuals with disabilities may not merely pick up this information but, like other teens or young adults, may begin to experiment recklessly.

Families, professionals, and well-meaning individuals often discourage individuals with disabilities from dating. This may be a conscious decision (maybe if we don't discuss it, the problem won't arise) or an unconscious one (not taking the advances and/or comments of an individual seriously because the possibility of a relationship never entered one's mind). Individuals with disabilities may find reactions to their desire for a romantic relationship both embarrassing and discouraging. Parents, professionals, and other concerned individuals must be able to separate the individuals from the disability and understand that they have the same desire for love, relationships, sex, marriage, and children as do other members of the population.

Some outstanding resources regarding this topic include:

Have You Thought About This?  (for Recreation, Friendship, and Dating) 
  • Has the student tried a wide array of activities, including organized groups (e.g., an aerobics class or drama production), informal groups (e.g., going to the mall with a bunch of friends), organized independent activity (e.g., private music lesson), informal independent activity (e.g., gardening at home)? 
  • What kind of social situations does the student prefer (e.g., large groups, small groups, one to one, by him/herself, nightclubs, sports)? 
  • Does the student enjoy certain activities more than others? 
  • Does the student need to worry about weight maintenance (especially important if he/she will need physical assistance from others)? 
  • What type of budget does the student have? 
  •  If there were no financial restrictions, what would the student do? 
  • If the student did not have a disability, what would he/she prefer to do? (should be the same) 
  • Will the student need to find out about any accommodations? 
  • Does the student need to invest in any specialized equipment? 
  • Does the student need assistance with registering for activities? 
  • If the student has an alternative means of communication, is he/she able to explain it to others? 
  • Does the student know the general rules of safe sex? 
  • What are the student's social outlets? 
  • How does the student prefer to meet people (e.g., via recreation activities, at work, being introduced, placing or answering personal ads in the paper)? 
  • Does the student need assistance in developing relationships? 



Volunteerism has always been a part of American community life; our history is full of people volunteering together for common goals. Unfortunately, people with disabilities have been largely overlooked as potential volunteers. This does not mean that people with disabilities should be asked to volunteer for jobs that other people get paid to dono one should be asked to do that. However, it does mean that it is time to begin looking at individuals with disabilities as people who are able to be on the giving as well as the receiving end of services.

Volunteering is a great way to meet others with similar interests and many volunteer activities are tied together with social activities (e.g., a celebratory dinner after cleaning up the park). Additionally, because volunteer activities often attract people who want to "do good," it is relatively easy to develop supports for an individual who will need them to be successful. Volunteering can take many forms, from entertaining children in a homeless shelter to becoming active in local politics. Below is a list of 41 places to volunteer for different types of activities:

The Voluntary Action Center of the United Way of Massachusetts can assist you in finding out about these and other volunteer opportunities in the location nearest you. Contact The United Way Voluntary Action Center, 2 Liberty Square, Boston, MA 02109-4844 (617) 422-6775 (statewide). Or contact, Match-Up Interfaith Volunteers, Inc., 273 Clarendon Street, Boston, (617) 536-3557.

Commitment to a Cause 

homeless shelters, hospitals, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, Senior Centers, churches, Public Libraries, city streets, AIDS Action Committee, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (you do not have to be a mother), synagogues, United Way, Boston Volunteer Center (will give you a number closest to you), political campaigns, Live Theaters (ushers, mass mailing assistance), public radio and television stations, music groups (e.g., community band, choruses, orchestras), museums, historical societies, city recreation departments, Chamber of Commerce, community parks, city hall, homes for seniors, colleges, universities, public schools, tourist information centers, Big Brother /Sister Association, Health Centers, shelters for abused women/children, day care centers, Horticultural Society, counseling centers, Hospice, meal programs for individuals who are homeless/elderly, 4-H clubs, after school programs, state and national parks, Girl and Boy Scouts, community centers. 

Have You Thought About This?  (for Volunteering) 
  • Does the student prefer to volunteer with other people or by him/herself? 
  • What type of volunteer situation does the student prefer (e.g., social activities such as visiting a nursing home or working with children; office activities such as answering letters or stuffing envelopes; outdoor activities such as nature clean-ups or trail maintenance)? 
  • Does the student have any specific concerns about a social problem on which he/she may want to work? 
  • Does the student need to worry about weight maintenance (especially important if he/she will need physical assistance from others)? 
  • If the student did not have a disability, what would he/she prefer to do? (should be the same) 
  • Will the student need to find out about any accommodations? 
  • Does the student need to invest in any specialized equipment? 
  • Does the student need assistance with registering for activities? 
  • If the student has an alternative means of communication, is he/she able to explain it to others? 
  • What kind of social situations does the student prefer (e.g., large groups, small groups, one to one, nightclubs, sports)? 
  • What are the student's social outlets? 
  • How does the student prefer to meet people (e.g., via recreation activities, at work, being introduced, placing or answering personal ads in the paper)? 
  • Does the student need assistance in developing relationships? 


Back to the Section IV Introduction
Back to the Table of Contents