By Paul Khouri, civil rights intern
On the way to work one morning, I was greeted by a group of eight-to-ten year olds who were campers from Valley Mill Camp, a summer day camp in Germantown, Maryland. They were waiting for a bus to pick them up. Some of the campers had known me from the year before, when I had worked at the there as a rock climbing instructor, and where I had also rode the bus with them. Riding the bus with these young campers was an adventure on its own, and I was always amazed by how much one could learn from them. I remember one camper in particular made me reflect upon issues that affect millions of Americans every day, myself included: disability and accessibility.
It was a Friday, and Fridays at camp were called “Fun Friday,” because the campers got to have a party on the bus at the end of the day. Basically, each camper brought a snack to share with other campers on the bus. I had one camper, Dave, and while riding the bus Dave asked me if he could save his snacks. I simply nodded my head, thinking nothing of it. Once we arrived at the parking lot where the parents would pick up their children, Dave yelled at someone to get on the bus with him. From out of the crowd, a younger boy ran up onto the bus and sat next to Dave. I asked Dave what was going on. He explained that the younger boy was his brother, who couldn’t go to camp with him yet, but wanted to experience a Fun Friday. I told Dave what he had done was very nice of him to do. Then I looked over at his younger brother, and I realized he had Down syndrome.
Watching the two brothers eat their snacks, two thoughts went through my mind. First, that some children truly are mature beyond their years. Second, where do all the children with Downs syndrome, or any disability for that matter, go in the summer? Recreation, Sports, Leisure, Athletics N72 Special Olympics O Youth Development
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Should they not be getting that summer experience; jumping into lakes, going for canoe rides, riding horses, shooting arrows and rock climbing?
Doing a quick Google search, I noticed most camps do not have special programs for kids with disabilities. Instead, there are camps that exclusively focus on children with disabilities.
So I pose the question. Would it really be that difficult to include children with disabilities in camps today?
I think that a summer program that involves all children, regardless of disabilities, would be beneficial to both children with disabilities and children without disabilities.
Looking at children with disabilities, going to camp could be a place for them to develop skills. Camp activities are not educational courses, such as math, science or history. Rather, they are activities where kids are able to develop skills such as climbing a wall, paddling in a canoe, or riding a horse. For children with disabilities to have the feeling that they are able to develop a skill, and do things that other children who are not disabled can do, is rewarding. In addition, children who don’t have disabilities would develop a better understanding of children who are different from them. Just like Dave, who knew his brother would not be able to go to camp like he was.
I have worked with people with Down syndrome when I was a part of Best Buddies InternationalI learned a lot about myself, and I think that other people working at camps would learn a great deal by having the opportunity to work with children with disabilities.
Valley Mill Camp recently started a pilot program to see how it would work out to have children with autism at camp. Could this be a small step for one camp, and a big step for other camps to start following suit?