Last summer, Scouter Angela Glunt participated in the Philmont training course DIVERSEability and DisABILITY. Here are her experiences in adapting the COPE Challenge for people with disabiilities.
Our class was approached by the COPE team and asked if we would be willing to participate in the COPE Course in order to help develop strategies for assisting Scouts with special needs. The goal was to show the struggles a Scout with special needs might encounter during the event.
Our group was very excited for the opportunity to engage in this adventure. We split our class in half. One group took the Lower Course and the other took the Upper Course. Each group member exhibited the characteristics of a different disability. By helping the staff, as if aiding a Scout with special needs, they were able to gain knowledge through the hands-on experience.
Participant Amy wore a blindfold, showing that the course can be completed with visual impairments. She was absolutely brilliant as she braved the high-wire bridges. The staff quickly realized that Amy required a ‘one on one’ staff member to guide her up the flights of stairs, over the obstacles that each new trial held, and made sure she safely belayed down the tower.
Participants Curt and David represented Autism and ADHD. They did a magnificent job portraying related behaviors, not paying attention or listening to details, not staying on task, having difficulties following or understanding directions, fidgeting, talking too much, blurting out, interrupting, and so on. The COPE team worked hard to adjust their routines, instructions and communication to adapt in a manner that would best suit each participant’s needs. This was no easy task.
I myself had recently undergone vocal cord surgery and was unable to speak. As I advanced through the course, I had to make sure I could properly communicate with the staff. We needed to have verbal permission to transfer our harness cables from one bridge to another. I could not communicate vocally from the crow’s nest posts to staff in the tower. Instead, I snapped my fingers and made eye contact. I was then granted permission to transfer my cables.
After I completed the various rope, cables and wood bridges, I proceeded to the wall where I could belay down. I have been rock climbing and belaying before, so knew I needed gloves. The staff member gave me instructions, told me to lean back and jump down. I signed that I needed gloves. Again, the staff member encouraged me to jump down. I signed again, that I needed gloves. I saw the gloves sitting on the side. Part of me wanted to reach out and grab them, but then I thought, “what if this were a Scout who had never done this before and wasn’t able to communicate? Would that Scout know they needed gloves?” After the third round of reassuring instructions, and still no gloves, I jumped.
Half way down my descent, I heard that staff member scream, “I forgot to give her gloves!” BINGO! At that moment I knew they would always remember to check to make sure every Scout had gloves, regardless of their communication abilities. After I zipped through my landing, I showed the staff my hands and neither hand had blisters or rope burns. I was fine. Their concern was sincere and I felt very safe.
I finished up the course by climbing the rock wall twice. It was an incredible feeling to overcome my fears and anxieties while building self confidence. Each of us stretched beyond our comfort zones for a bigger purpose, to make the COPE course a place all Scouts can go and feel included.
Afterwards we all reconvened to share our observations and evaluations. Both the staff and our class grew that day. It was incredible to see the dynamics and experiences we all shared. Each of us has special attributes and talents that we bring and share within Scouting.