Jamboree With Disabilities

2017 Jamboree Disabilities Awareness Challenge Staff PatchScott Hellen, a National Jamboree staffer with limited mobility, shares observations on his Jamboree experience.

We all have preconceived expectations of what our first time on staff at a National Jamboree will be like. I was looking forward to working hundreds of Scouts from around the country and abroad as they came through the Disabilities Awareness Challenge, dAC. I also wanted to meet the adult Scouters that came from various locations and diverse backgrounds to serve as dAC staff. I learned fast that reality does not always meet one’s expectations.

After arriving I was asked to step (or in my case, roll) out of working the dAC and into a new position as accessibility coordinator for the entire Jamboree. I was tasked to do what I could to make the entire Jamboree as accessible as possible to all who attended. This was a challenge in many ways. I already struggled to get myself through a day at the Jamboree with my own physical disabilities. I used my wheelchair and electric mobility scooter to “do my best.”

“Be Prepared” is the Scout motto and one that I try and live by. It is very important to be prepared if you have a disability. Scouts and Scouters with disabilities should always let staff and camps know well in advance about a disability and the need for “Reasonable Accommodations” to attend a camp. A reasonable accommodation modifies the environment and/or program so a person with a special need or disability can participate to the fullest.

For my remaining comments I will abbreviate “Special Needs and DisAbilities” as SND.

My new Jamboree job

My new job was to make arrangements for people I did not know, in an unfamiliar environment, with staff I had never met. I had a hard job, but so did the Jamboree volunteers who worked with me. I added to their already overbooked day by challenging them to set up accommodations for others with SND.

It’s not always practical to provide accommodations a disabled person might request. Some accommodations cost far too much or alter the proposed purpose of an event. Accommodations that give the person with the SND an undue advantage are also inappropriate.

Some accommodations were already available at the Summit. Most bathrooms had accessible toilets and showers. This helped many with limited mobility. Being accessible to some did not guarantee accessibility for all: the path to the bathroom might not always line up with its concrete floor, creating a barrier for wheelchair users. Jamboree staff could often fix this problem with a ramp.

In other situations it was impossible to make an otherwise reasonable accommodation work. It was not because the staff didn’t want to do it. Often the change would have cost too much time and/or money since the Jamboree was already in progress.

A feature of the shuttle bus system offers a simple example. The busses used colors of the rainbow as identification. This posed serious problems for people with color blindness. A correction would have required changes to signs and schedules on busses, bus stops, and the Jamboree app. There was no practical way to make the change once the Jamboree was under way.

Scout Spirit for the Win

While I worked hard in my role of making the Jamboree a successful experience for Scouts with SND, I never worked alone. Time and time again I saw Scouts reaching out to others with SND and asking what they could do to help. Sometimes it was simply holding open a door to let a person having difficulties in the busy environment go first. In most cases the grounds were well maintained and the staff were ready for everyone. They were proud to help ALL Scouts.

Some scouts had visual disabilities. They were challenged with color coded maps and directions, small print, and poor lighting while navigating through crowds. They found assistance from people who were Trustworthy.

Some Scouts with SND take more time then the average Scout to trust another person and discuss the accommodation they need. The staff worked on these relationships and helped out many with SND. A Scout is Loyal.

I encountered a wonderful group of staff at Bravo 1. Many units were assigned to this site if they had Scouts or leaders who self-identified as having a special need or disability. The Bravo 1 team worked hard to provide reasonable accommodations. A Scout is Helpful.

One of the best accommodations could be implemented any time and cost nothing. The secret was a smile followed by a little conversation. “How’s your day going? Enjoying the Jamboree? Can I help you?” A Scout is Friendly.

Some accommodations are easy to set up without much planning such as having someone help a person through the cafeteria line, or in and out a door if they are in a wheelchair. A Scout is Courteous.

To follow through with this, Scouts or leaders might walk a Scout to their next location, especially those with a cognitive or processing disability. I saw a lot of staff and participants do this. A Scout is Kind.

Peer buddies, unit leaders, staff members, and total strangers regularly followed through with requests for reasonable accommodations, large or small, time after time, day after day, to make the Jamboree accessible for ALL. A Scout is Obedient.

It could take a lot of time and a lot of talk to set up accommodations. I would prepare myself to work with Staff and figure out how to convince them to spend their time and resources to make the Jamboree more accessible, sometimes for just a single Scout. It takes a lot of patience, especially when a fellow Jamboree staffer won’t fulfill a seemingly reasonable request. We must always remember: A Scout is Cheerful.

Some accommodations are well known but take planning, such as a raised toilet seat and grab bars in the latrine area, but we can’t make every latrine accessible. We scouted out their locations before the participants arrived, made notes of were they were needed, and how locations could be improved. During the Jamboree either the staff or I put up simple paper signs with arrows or directions to locate the nearest accessible bathroom. A Scout is Thrifty.

Scouting requires the “Buddy System” for good reasons. Scouts with SND often need help getting through an event as big, new, and crowded as the Jamboree. These “Peer Buddies” show that a Scout is Brave.

One easy accommodation was to work with staff and make sure their areas were picked up, organized, and well laid out. This helps scouts with physical disAbilities but also those that deal poorly with clutter. A Scout is Clean.

Time and time again, people took the time to make the Jamboree as accessible as possible to ALL Scouts. Following the Scout Oath and Law is not just the way a Scout is supposed to act, it is the character they should have. In my opinion, character is also how you interact with and treat others. Good character applies the Oath and Law throughout the day, no mater how tired you are, how busy you are, or whether the person you meet is a stranger, a friend, or a person with a SND. That is the Scouting Way. A Scout is Reverent.

I want to thank all the Scouts, Adult Scouters, and Staff that worked with all the Scouts with SND each and every day at the Jamboree. You set the example to everyone that people with SND just want to be treated like everyone else.