Tips to Make Your Summer Camp a Disability-Aware Business
A Guest Blog by Alex Robbins
Singing songs, performing skits, roasting marshmallows over a fire to make s’mores, and of course, forming new friendships with fellow campers: these are just a few of the most memorable aspects that children enjoy at summer camps.
We typically think of summer camps as something to be enjoyed by all children, but often camp owners aren’t including kids with disabilities in their planning for summer camp. But kids with disabilities want to go to camp just like all other kids, and their families need and want more options. Thankfully, an increasing number of camps have started opening their doors to all children, including those with disabilities.
Are you a camp director looking to bring more inclusion into your summer camp this upcoming season? If so, here are some “must-haves” for making your summer camp a great experience for campers with disabilities:
Hire an “Inclusion Specialist”
Some camps hire camp counselors and other staff who have a professional background in making camp environments inclusive. There are many benefits to having an inclusion specialist at your camp. For instance, inclusion specialists have experience working with children who have disabilities, including ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, or other needs. They can provide expert support for these campers, and teach other campers and camp staff how to include the kids with disabilities in the full range of camp activities and experiences.
Learn Disability Awareness
You can also encourage and improve interaction between children with and without disabilities by training your camp staff to use person-first language and disability-aware communication skills. Trainings are available from groups like the JJsList.com Disability Awareness Players. By running your camp in a disability-aware manner, you can teach your campers to be more inclusive of kids with diverse abilities.
Build Community Within Your Local Community
The best camps are the ones that enrich the lives of children with disabilities even after they leave the camp. According to the Camp Hacker podcast, it is important for camps to make use of local resources. One idea is to reach out to local schools’ special education departments to let them know about summer staff and volunteer opportunities with your camp for special education teachers, high school students who are interested in becoming peer buddies, or retiring teachers that have experience working with children with disabilities.
Another idea for integrating your camp into the local community is to sponsor your local Special Olympics, or walks, runs and other events geared towards helping children who have disabilities. Not only does this allow you to give back to your community, it also helps parents of children with disabilities become familiar with your camp. Who knows? It might even be a way that you meet some of your future campers!
Make sure all camp counselors and other staff members are trained in CPR and First Aid for children and adults. This training is quick, simple, affordable and life-saving. On the first day of camp, have safety drills for the campers and your camp staff. It helps to have everyone prepared for an emergency just in case one happens. Also consider how you will keep unauthorized individuals from accessing the children at your camp.
If you have an overnight camp, assistance getting in and out of bunk beds should be provided to campers who have disabilities. This assistance should be provided by a camp counselor, not by a fellow camper. Also consider allowing children with and without disabilities to bunk together. Experts say inclusive environments teach campers to value each other’s unique strengths and differences.
Keep the camper-to-staff ratio small.
This is something parents are looking for in summer camps these days. It ensures learning, one-on-one attention, and a positive experience for campers. It also helps ensure the safety and security of campers.
After incorporating the expert wisdom listed above, you can create a camp that children with disabilities will delight in attending. Their parents will appreciate the effort you’ve taken to welcome their children and ensure they’re having fun. Best of all, you’ll have made a difference in the lives of countless children, regardless of abilities. As we all know, that’s the greatest reward of all.
About Our Guest Blogger
Alex Robbins enjoys researching and writing about home safety tips, advice, and life hacks. He is part of the Safety Today team, and loves having the opportunity to promote home and community safety through his writing.