For most families the search for a good children’s summer camp program, sports teams or activity program starts when snow is still on the ground. Children with disabilities need not be left out of the fun and traditions of camp, crafts, sports and field trips but it does take planning to make an enjoyable summer.
Finding summer activities for children with disabilities is much easier than it was years ago. Still, parents need to be diligent about asking the right questions about accessibility and accommodations. It’s also important to find programs where children will have fun and be comfortable, and not feel out of place. Unfortunately, children with disabilities can be subjected to many forms of bullying at recreation centers and camps.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes more options available for children. In the vast majority of cases public and private programs cannot deny participation in programs based on disability. If participation would pose a direct threat to the health and safety of other participants or would fundamentally alter the nature of a program, there could be exceptions. But most programs, policies and procedures can be modified and ways can be found to inclusive to all children.
Lots of good websites offer advice for parents. One of the best and most often repeated tips is that children with disabilities usually do best in activities that are more about fun and less about winning. Many parents have found that less structured programs, which are more social or recreational than competitive, are a good fit for their child.
Here are some tips to making planning fun summer activities:
Ask around. Other parents, parent groups, a child’s teachers, community education program staff and community groups are the best source for information about programs a child might enjoy. Ask what a child’s friends are doing for summer activities.
Online parent groups can also be a wealth of information about programs that work and don’t work for children.
When seeking information, don’t be hesitant to ask questions. What was the camp or activity experience like for your child? What did she or he like or dislike? How was the communication between families and staff and/or volunteers? What accommodations are available?
Plan ahead and register early. Many programs, especially programs specifically for children with disabilities, can fill up right away. Popular summer activities, such as community education trips to water parks, also can be in high
Communicate a child’s needs clearly and specify what is needed. Should a wheelchair be waiting at the program site? Would the child need a tactile tour of a museum? Or is American Sign Language needed to make the play enjoyable? Would a T make it easier to hit a ball? Can a buddy push the wheelchair around the bases or be a play partner?
Make sure when registering a child that staff involved know of the child’s disability or disabilities and can best plan accommodations. Community-based education programs are doing more to accommodate children with disabilities but information is needed to get the right accommodations. Some programs welcome a parent, sibling or personal care attendant to come along but ask how that will affect program or activity costs.
Ask about special programs. One example is Little League Baseball. In some communities a “Challenger Division” is offered for children ages 6 through 18. This might be an option for children with disabilities who want to play baseball. The rules are flexible and are set by the skill levels of the players. Children are paired with other children. For information about programs in your area, go to www.littleleague.org/Learn_More /About_Our_Organization/divisions/challenger.htm
Get technical help. One great resource is the National Center on Accessibility (NCA). Technical assistance staff will also answer questions about recreation issues. They are knowledgeable about current accessibility standards, program modifications, equipment, best practices and innovative solutions. Talk to a NCA Accessibility Specialist by calling 812-856-4422 or e-mail questions to [email protected].
Look at resources. PACER Center has a good list of camp resources, and frequently asked questions about summer camps and activities. Go to www.pacer.org/publications/adaqa/summer.asp This includes links to Discover Camp, a resource for parents of children with disabilities who need helping selecting a camp. It also includes links to the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability websites, which have valuable information.
Have fun at home! One of the best websites Access Press found is www.abilitypath.org, which had Summer fun great ideas for free or inexpensive backyard. Build tents, make your own water park, have a goopy and gooey sensory day, and more! www.abilitypath.org/health-daily-care/daily-care/playing/top-ten-summeractivities-special-needs.html