Being Prepared for Physical Disabilities

An edited version of this article also appear in the May/June 2020 issue of Advancement News.

Wheelchair Archery

Physical disabilities require thorough advance preparation.  Every kind of mobility equipment has limitations and, even with mobility equipment, there are places a Scout cannot go unless access provisions are made in advance.  There are many activities that a Scout with a physical disability can participate in, but only if special equipment is available and already put into place.  You cannot count on being able to improvise on short notice.

Preparation is important for everyday meetings at the regular unit meeting place.  This is easier than at other locations because you get “do overs.”  You can take advantage of the learning curve and put permanent access solutions into place.  You can also focus on the specific needs of your Scout to make adaptations.  Outings are a greater challenge for preparation, but “outing” is essential to “Sc-outing,” so preparing for outdoor activities and locations is important as well.

Communication with the Scout is a key part of the preparation.  The Scout and family need to know as much as possible about an upcoming event.  This includes details about both the activities and the venue where the event is being held.  While you may be confident as a leader and organizer, it is very hard to spot all the potential trouble spots when you don’t live with the disability every day.  Think of the family members of the Scout as your teammates in spotting the needed adaptations and keeping you from wasting time and energy on unnecessary ones.

Communication from the Scout and family to the staff of an event is equally important.  Unlike the regular leaders of the Scout’s unit, camp staff members have no history or experience with the Scout and are responsible for many more Scouts than just the one with a disability.  Someone needs to reach out to the camp director long before the camp season opens to explain what the Scout’s needs are likely to be and what activities and merit badges the Scout wants to attempt. This allows a chance to be inventive and create solutions that are easy and effective.

Advance previews are a great tool.  Five minutes of looking at something is better than five hours of talking about it.  See if there is a way for the Scout and family to go out to the location in advance of an event to spot the problem areas.  In some instances, a simple item brought from home will address a lot of challenges.  For summer camp or day camp, see if you can go out during the staff training and set-up days for the camp.  Not only can you address the physical obstacles of the camp, the Scout can make friends with some staff members and you can talk to staff about how to include the Scout in the camp’s activities.  These conversations go so much better when the staff is not in the mad swirl of holding camp with large numbers of Scouts.