Camp is a summertime staple, a place where abilities are discovered, independence tested, lifelong friendships born and cherished memories made. But for children with disabilities and their parents, finding a fully accessible, adequately staffed camp can seem nearly impossible.
To address the needs of children and adults with disabilities — and allow them to experience joys and challenges unique to summer camp — many camping and recreation facilities across the United States now offer fully-accessible camping. From campfire sing-a-longs to boating, nature walks, swimming, and arts and crafts, accessible camps provide all the excitement and activities available at mainstream summer camps.
Accessible grounds and facilities, adapted equipment and trained staff make it possible for campers with disabilities to enjoy the most challenging aspects of camp life. "It was like a vacation where I got to try new things — like white water rafting and river traversing. I tried everything, even when I wasn't sure I could do it," said Bridget Houlihan, a former camper and counselor at Easter Seals Rocky Mountain Village in Colorado. "I learned by watching the counselors who helped me, and pushed me to my limits trying new things."
By exercising their abilities and expanding their horizons, campers gain self-esteem and develop confidence in their own abilities. Separated from their parents, many for the first time, campers begin to trust their own instincts and gain a sense of independence. Camp is their chance to see themselves in a different light; to focus on the amazing things they can do, rather than the things they can't.
Children and adults with disabilities do not often have the opportunity to test their abilities in the context of everyday life. Inadequate resources or anticipated failure on the part of a caregiver, or the child himself, can significantly stifle progress.
"We work with campers to help them be the best they can be," said Debbie Burchmore, a program director and camp counselor who has worked at various Easter Seals facilities. "Unfortunately, many of our campers don't have the opportunity in their own environments to see how far they can go. To see the looks on their faces when they see what they've achieved, it's incredible."