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Yes I Can! A Vision for Inclusive Programming.

It is a typical camp day. Most of the children are running around, having fun, and enjoying the warmth of summer. A few campers, however, are having a little trouble fitting in and getting involved. Joseph is what most people would call hyper. He's all over the place, and getting him to listen, follow directions, or stay with the group is next to impossible most of the time. Francesca is extraordinarily shy and reserved, and her counselors have a heck of a time getting her to participate or socialize with the other children. Reginald loves sports with a passion; he is sitting dejectedly on the sidelines in a wheelchair however, because of a broken leg he suffered in a bike accident.

The counselors are caring people, though, and they spend time brainstorming about ways to create a more positive summer experience for these children. With Joseph, they start telling him before transitions are about to occur. They observe what stimuli tend to set him off, circumventing problems before they arise. If necessary, when giving instructions, they make sure they are looking right at him and that he is paying attention. None of these measures are foolproof, but they do help, and Joseph's summer starts to get better.

Francesca's counselors continue to give her a lot of nurturing and seek ways to gradually acclimate her to the group. They find nonthreatening situations and try to pair her up with the right people. Francesca never becomes "Miss Gregarious," but the staff soon learns to recognize subtle signs. Even the faintest hint of a smile reveals she is feeling better about things.

With encouragement from his counselors, Reginald discovers he can be a great kickball pitcher from his wheelchair, and he also enjoys wheeling around the bases more than watching from the sidelines. It soon becomes second nature for everyone to start considering even small adaptations that will enable Reginald to participate in virtually every activity.

None of the children in these scenarios were labeled with a diagnosis of any kind of disability. The staff simply saw them as children whose respective circumstances posed some challenges to full participation in camp programs. Label or no label, diagnosis or no diagnosis, the key is vision. If counselors continue to see the children first, not the disability, and envision ways to include them, chances for successful participation by campers with disabilities are immeasurably enhanced. Naturally, the specific challenges and techniques involved will vary in scope and difficulty along a vast continuum, but without an inclusive vision, mainstreaming will remain an elusive goal.

Clearly, when a camper with a disability is included in activities, he feels better about himself and his abilities. He feels a sense of belonging that many campers and staff members probably take for granted. This feeling of belonging also extends beyond himself to his family. His parents will enjoy the same opportunities other parents have to see their children successfully participate in programming.

Everyone involved in inclusion, especially youth, learns about diversity, tolerance, respect, and friendship. You can bet that within a few days, several campers will be fighting over who gets to help push Reginald in his wheelchair. And to the extent that we can plant these seeds in our campers at an early age, the chances at an inclusive and accessible adult society will be that much greater.

So, have a vision. Think inclusively. Consider the power of language and using words with dignity. We refer to the child as one with a disability, or differing abilities, rather than as a disabled child. Focus on the child, not the disability.

Sooner or later, all of us will have moments when we will need the help of others to include us, even if it's not until we're eighty years old and having trouble getting up the stairs. We will want people to think of us and to think inclusively. Let us all do the same, starting today.

Daryl C. Rothman, M.S.W., has directed early childhood and youth programs for camps for seven years and serves as the site supervisor for early childhood at the JCC in Chesterfield, Missouri. He is a frequent speaker at various workshops and conferences, including the Mid-States Camping Conference.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Rothman, Daryl
Publication:Camping Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2001
Words:704
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