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The Environment as a Precipitator of Activity

by David M. Campion, Ed.D Project Coordinator USOE/ BEH Career Education EMR Grant

(Editor's Note: This paper was presented at the Illinois Therapeutic Recreation Society Northern Region Workshop, Northern Illinois University, Laredo Taft Fieldhouse, Oregon, Illinois.)

In today's space age technology there is little left to the imagination regarding the fulfillment of our wildest dreams. Unfortunately, we have not prepared for a sizeable enigma—free or leisure time. Aristotle once was attributed as stating, "A society unprepared for leisure will degenerate in prosperous times."

As recreators, we have become beguiled by a sense of delivering, consuming, acting or processing while the real delicacies in life pass us by! I am convinced that the professional recreator is the most frequent and successful misuser of free time. In all due respect, he/she may be considered a "professional workaholic." We delight in delivering our service, "play and recreation," in large, unrefusable doses, but are so possessed by the concept of utilitarianism that we rarely catch glimpses of leisure. Many of us are so bound to the clock and a production schedule that we are blinded by our own involuntary servitude.

I am sure each of us has also been guilty of "zipping" to work, "zinging" to the movies, and "zagging" to the local grocery store— hither, thither and yon! Hurry here—hurry there! Much to our chagrin, we have probably passed by literally thousands of objects in our surrounding environment worthy of closer inspection. Our perception and awareness of human, physical and socio-communicative environments is indeed quite elementary. Daily, we go through life in a visual, auditory and tactile blur, rarely being cognizant of the impact the environment has on our lives—let alone those whom we purport to afford treatment.

Many of us do not consider the environment to be something we should "fuss" about—"I mean, gee, it's there and I really can't change it, you know!" I believe this an erroneous perception and propose to you that if anyone should be cognizant of the dynamics of the environment and operationally employing sound use of the environment, it should be the therapeutic recreator. Which other rehabilitation discipline is as electric and dynamic as ours? Who else daily ushers a client into a scintillating environment to receive every stimulus put forth by its human and physical components?

The problem we are faced with is identifying the environmental components which are involved and analyzing how these components precipitate activity. Further, we must begin to analyze the interrelationships of the client and his/ her environment, seeking creative ways in which to change or modify it to achieve the highest level of rehabilitation or leisure sustenance.

The Environment—What it It? Oftentimes we mistake the term "environment" to refer only to those tangible, physical entities which surround us. Our environment is comprised of much more than the physical; it also includes the human and socio-communicative dimensions. These dimensions can be further delineated into the following areas:

—physical: "built" (i.e.) buildings and other man-made structures; "natural" (i.e.) flora and fauna, soil, water, etc.; "ambient" (i.e.) temperature, humidity, illumination, noise, color, texture; "temporal" (ie.) time, life-space.

—human: cultures, sub-cultures; sex, age, diagnostic, ethnic categories; ability or disability; power roles (ascribed or acquired).

—socio-communicative: written, oral and mechanical communicative processes; interrelationships of human beings with other human beings, and the physical environment.

Collectively, the aforementioned areas constitute our environment. The dynamic interrelationships between man and his environment are important to understand in the rehabilitation process. Only when we understand these phenomena that we will be able to efficiently and effectively intervene with selected activities under selected environmental conditions to bring about the optimum rehabilitation effect in clients.

The Physical Environment

It is interesting to note that today our modern physical environments, especially our built environments, may be devoid of the humanistic qualities we desire.

Haney and Zimbardo in their article, "It's Tough to Tell a High School from a Prison," describe our current high schools and prisons in the same breath. They indicate that these institutions of education are physically tragic environments. They describe the modern high school as a fortress.

Our "built" environment leaves a lot to be desired, especially where public buildings are concerned. Usually, the building is constructed with some intent or basic purpose. Wolfensberger (1972) indicated that most buildings are, in priority, first built "as a monument," second "as a public relations medium, and last "as a medium of service."

Taking this thought a step further, when considering the handicapped, our "built" environments rival the absurdity of a finely crafted Rube Goldberg masterpiece. In your own mind, take a moment and think of a structure in your community which is built for the handicapped or dysfunctioned individual. Bail (Wolfensberger, 1972: 63-65) presents an array of measures which are dehumanizers of the built environment.

(walls, floors, etc. made of material that is indestructible; unbreakable, shatterproof, or wire-enmeshed glass windows and

Illinois Parks and Recreation 12 January/February, 1976

partitions; installation of the'' sturdiest, most heavy-duty furniture and equipment)

A presumably subhuman individual is usually perceived as being potentially assaultive, destructive, and lacking in self-direction and constructive purpose; this characteristically leads to a number of measures—

locked areas and living units; locked areas within locked areas; in the case of children or the physically handicapped, door knobs may be set high and above reach, or complicated release mechanisms may be installed; this permits staff to perceive the facility as 'open' even though it is de facto locked; a fence or wall surrounding entire buildings or even an entire facility complex; segregation of the sexes; such segregation may assume absurd proportions (and more clearly reveal the underlying ideology) when practiced with infants and children, or with the aged.

The built environment can be a precipitator of activity. Planned with the client-user as a priorty, it is possible to reverse the current trends of architectural purpose and convenience. There is considerable evidence from environmental psychology to support the concepts of physical, human and socio-communicative planning of the "built" environment to induce or reduce a level of individual activity.

For instance, we know that in some instances, smaller offices, play spaces and institutional living quarters precipitate social activity. In addition, flexible, open-room space also promotes more social interaction.

Specific physical environmental considerations should be thoroughly reviewed by the therapeutic recreator when planning the activity treatment program.

The Human Environment

It is unlikely that any of us will be around a hundred years from now, but human conditions may be so frightful by then, we may not want to be around. Population multiplication is certain to be our inevitable undoing. It leads to this theoretical observation by Dr. Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb (Helfrich, 1970):

Our population now is doubling roughly every 35 years. A lot of people ask, 'Why can't population grow forever?' The old statistics are still valid for a reply. At the current rate, in 900 years there will be a billion people on the face of the earth, or 1700 for every square mile. Projecting this farther into the future, in about 2000 or 3000 years people would weigh more than the earth; in 5000 years everything in the visible universe would be converted into people, and their expansion would be at the speed of light.

Population explosion leads to many human environmental crises ranging from overcrowding, pollution, and health care, to territorial/ space difficulties. It is interesting to note that by and large our human environmental problems are generic to the despoilment of our physical environment.

Our human environment is also marked by its organizations, cliques, castes, mores, value systems and folkways. For many there is some niche where they fit into the social order. Two dimensions of the human environment seem rather important in our discussion—freedom of choice and motivation.

One should consider that the physical, human and socio-communicative environmental dimensions are both a context and a means to an end. The human setting that provides alternative ways of satisfying an individual's primary, secondary and tertiary purposes is one which provides the individual the greatest freedom of choice.

Socio-Communicative Environment

Each of us communicates in different ways. Predicated on the individual's competency in communication networks, we encode and decode messages from other human beings and our physical environments. It is important to note that the principle mode of communication is through non-verbal means.

In addition to "body language," the socio-communicative environment is comprised of such wide ranking dimensions as telecommunications, group dynamics, ekistics (the science of human settlements), and other graphic media.

Our concern is to affect a high level of communication with clients. Francois Allaire (Kaiser News, 1971:4) indicates that:

... to communicate with someone is to effect some form of change in their store of experiences. This change may affect their level of perceptions, their way of seeing things, their information bank and even their pattern of behavior.

The Enigma of Change

Change in our society is a continuous process and is evident in each area of our environment. We should really post a sign in front of the world reading, "Subject to change without notice!" But all too often we resist change. We rarely venture beyond our own shell of existence . . . Like the proverbial turtle, "Behold he makes progress only when is neck is out."

The basis of innovation and change in our society appears to be the natural result of the interaction between stimuli in our environment and the way that our nervous systems interpret the mesages they receive. The stimuli are constantly changing, the messages we receive from them are constantly changing, and our interpretation of the messages is constantly changing. But as human beings of the "established order" we are resistant to change. Responding to social or human needs is usually met with some sort of institutional lethargy. This is clearly pointed out by former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, John W. Gardner, in his book No Easy Victories (1968).

"It is apparent that we do best when the problems involve little or no social context. We're skilled in coping with problems with no human ingredient at all, as in the physical sciences. We are fairly good at problems that involve the social element to a limited degree,

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as in biomedical research. But we are poor at problem-solving that requires revision of social structures, the renewal of institutions, the invention of new arrangements."

Change also implies "risk-taking." We must stick our necks out. "Try it, maybe you will like it!" We must also be concerned about the degree of risk we afford our clients. Too much risk may have legal implications, but too little risk is a "potent dehumanizer."

Every therapeutic recreator must be ready to change, alter or otherwise modify the physical, human and socio-communicative environments to meet the expressed rehabilitation needs of the client; changing to achieve the principles of normalization.

Change in the physical environments we currently deliver human services in will, I am sure, yield a bountiful harvest. Change in our human environments will serve to streamline our efforts for "mainstreaming," "integration" and "parity" of the handicapped. But change necessitates a "creative" fiber in every human being.


In each and every one of you there are creative reservoirs waiting to be tapped. We simply need to become less inhibited, more exploratory, less rigid, more flexible, less static and more dynamic in our relationships with the three areas of environment.

The vestiges of rehabilitative power and success lie in our ability to solve the problems of tomorrow, not mull over yesterday's "bad taste." Our environments can serve to initiate new dimensions and levels of activity; we need to respond to the challenge by exploring the depths of our physical, human and socio-communicative environment.

Illinois Parks and Recreation 26 January/February, 1976

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