We educate and advocate for disability equity and inclusion in healthcare, education, and recreation to preserve civil and human rights.
Why It’s Important
Even with all the progress we made prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 and 2021 emphasized gross inequities in the ability for the disability community to access healthcare, education, and recreation. The Play Brigade broadened our offerings beyond recreation to address and keep pace with the most pressing issues in the disability community: healthcare justice and education equity for people with disabilities. We recognized that although laws such ADA, IDEA and other federal and state laws are designed to protect this community, there is a lack of advocacy and watchdog efforts to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the services and supports needed. We saw children who require 1:1 nursing in school excluded from education; we saw access to nursing and other medically necessary home health services disappear beyond reach; and we are seeing that as Covid restrictions continue to fade away, Boston is scaling back on mandates that created more inclusive opportunities for people with disabilities in the area. We saw Taylor Swift make national news for her presale fiasco, but the news The Play Brigade brought to light was the absence of accessible seating in that presale, which left people with disabilities without a chance of attending the concerts. There is also still a dearth of recreation location and programs that are truly inclusive.
What We’re Doing About It
The Play Brigade has a strategic plan to effectively address each of these issues, with the goal of Boston improving outcomes for this community that has been largely underserved and unrecognized. There are several contributing factors that we have been working to address through our advocacy work: a need for appropriate alternative services, better understanding and collaboration between governmental agencies and departments, an increase in knowledge of resources among families, and better compliance with disability law by city agencies and municipalities, as well as organizations who could serve this population well but do not.
Currently there are more than 1000 children in Boston who need nursing services so that they can simply attend school. Unless these deficits can be addressed, that number will most likely increase. Our team has worked tirelessly with Massachusetts’ Office of Long-Term Services and Supports (OLTSS) leadership, the Department of Early and Secondary Education (DESE), and local school districts to advocate for reasonable accommodations and alternatives to nursing that will allow children with disabilities the same rights to an education as their non-disabled peers. More parents and community members must be equipped to provide the same kind of watchdog advocacy that The Play Brigade has provided since 2014. No one has done what we’ve done or is currently doing what we are doing, which makes us well-positioned to lead the charge to address the dire needs of these children and their families across all three pillars of healthcare, education, and recreation.
What’s the Plan?
The starting point of our efforts is our pending launch of “Include U” – an information clearinghouse that people can access through The Play Brigade website. The focus of Include U will be to equip families and community members with advocacy skills, which will multiply the efforts of our organization to address our priority areas of healthcare justice, education equity, and recreation/community inclusion. Through documents, how-to guides, stories of advocacy success, and videos, anyone accessing Include U will have the tools they need to make a difference for themselves and others.
Secondly, we will use our track record of advocating with municipalities over the last eight years to bring DESE, OLTSS, and other community organizations and governmental agencies to the table to find common ground in the willingness to meet the needs of the families of children with disabilities and abide by mandates under state and federal law. The baseline goal will be to create a situation where children can receive the services that the state has determined are medically necessary for them to live at home and attend their community school. While we may not be able to address the shortage of nurses that compounds the issue here, we can work with these various offices and organizations to come up with alternative solutions such as the standing up of a vocational program for home health aides and personal care attendants trained in the basic caregiving procedures that are most needed for a child with a disability to be in school. We believe a program like this can introduce high school students to a career path that leads to the much-needed nursing role.
Lastly, we will compete our year-long study of Boston-area entertainment venues and their accessibility and compile a report to share with venue directors to improve access to accessible ticket sales, make available better seating options for those with disabilities, and increase participation in recreation by members of the disability community and their friends and families.