The town I grew up in had (and still has) an amazing parks and recreation department. One of the things I looked forward to each summer was the wide variety of summer day camps that they offered, with topics ranging from outdoor exploration to video production. Often times, I was the only student with a disability in these camps, but I adapted so well, the counselors often forgot that I had trouble seeing. Here are my tips for inclusion for people with vision impairments in summer day camps.
Talk to staff ahead of time
My mom would let the camp staff know ahead of time about my vision impairment, and would also mention that I can’t see without my glasses. I also would mention to counselors when necessary that I had trouble seeing things, and none of them ever freaked out about it.
Go with a friend or sibling
Often times, my brother would join me at summer camps. Though we didn’t stick together very often, it still helped to have a familiar face. For some camps, a friend or two would join me as well, which made the camps even more fun.
Take extra caution when appropriate
I can count on more than one hand the amount of times I fell into open bodies of water at camp. This wasn't the counselor's fault, or even my own- sometimes these things just happen. As a result, I would take additional caution when around areas like this and would ask the camp counselor or other staff member for additional assistance when necessary.
Bring a change of clothes and spare glasses
Speaking of open bodies of water, always bring extra clothes and spare glasses in case of an unexpected swim. I remember one day when I fell in a creek during a rock hopping activity, I didn’t have extra clothes and wore my friend’s shorts for the rest of the day. From that day on, I always made sure to have extra clothes.
Know your limits
At another camp I attended, there was a daily sports activity, usually volleyball or four-square. Because I have trouble with sports and tracking flying objects, I would always sit out during these activities and find something else to do in the meantime. It was better for me and created less stress for everyone else.
Don’t be afraid to try new things
At a 4H camp I attended, the counselor encouraged me to try out an archery activity. I was really nervous at first, and thought to myself that the counselor was crazy- I can barely even see in front of me, why on Earth would it be a good idea for me to shoot an arrow at a target? After being given safety goggles and having the counselor convince me I wouldn't hurt myself or others, I eventually tried it. It actually became one of my favorite activities at the camp. As long as there are proper safety precautions in place, it can be fun to try new things.
Use accessible materials
Without even asking, my camp counselors often used accessible materials when explaining topics. Whether it was enlarging images so everyone could see them or using tactile models, I never felt out of place for needing large print, and no one else really noticed my vision issues either. Learn more about creating tactile images here.
Report any issues immediately
If something comes up or there is signs of discrimination, do not hesitate to report it to the head counselor or other staff in the department. More often than not, staff just need additional reminders or training to deal with an issue, or additional personnel may be needed.
Stick with a group
Avoid traveling alone around the camp area, and instead stay with a partner or group. I would often request a partner for activities even if they were supposed to be completed individually, but it’s ultimately up to the camper if they want a partner or not.
Summer camps are meant to be fun, and encourage people to learn new skills that they wouldn’t learn in the classroom. Don’t let a vision impairment or other disability keep you from exploring the world around you and trying new things.