Advancement Considerations with Physical Disabilities

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

2019 Guide to Advancement cover

Physical disabilities can be accommodated in most cases by an open-minded reading of the requirement, keeping in mind the intent and learning objective of the requirement. 

Demonstrate/Show – There are many requirements that use the word demonstrate or show.  While for many Scouts that will mean “do the task by yourself, while I watch you,” this is not a realistic option for Scouts with some physical disabilities.  What we need to point out is that it is reasonable to allow an able person to amplify the force a Scout can exert or to steady a shaking hand while the Scout does the advancement task.  For a Scout with missing or non-functional hands, it is reasonable for another person to “be the hands” of the Scout while the Scout directs the task. (On a practical basis, this is no different than allowing a deaf scout to be assisted by a sign language interpreter.) The person serving as the “robot” needs to carefully follow the instructions of the Scout and not think on behalf of the Scout.

Write/Draw/Sketch/Diagram – Here we address a Scout who is unable to wield a writing implement.  Otherwise, we should be willing to accept a product that is not elegant as long as it communicates what it needs to. In a low-tech environment, the practical solution for writing requirements is to allow a scribe to take down the information the Scout gives verbally and write it on the page.  However, if you look closely, many requirements that we assume require a written product don’t actually say that.  Report, describe, discuss, and explain can all be done verbally.  In a high-tech environment, it may be possible for the Scout to type directly or to use voice recognition software to create a document.

There are a variety of ways to adapt to produce a graphical product without the traditional pen and paper.  Will a verbal “word picture” suffice, or is it OK for a scribe to draw what the Scout tells them?  Could  the Scout work with pen on paper with someone to help move the hand to a starting position and steady the hand while the Scout draws? Fingerpaint can also be used to draw on a larger scale. 

Physical Fitness Requirements – In many cases, there will be no way for the Scout with a physical disability to do certain kinds of exercises that are identified in advancement requirements.  You will need to get alternative requirements approved, but we still prefer to have them be a physical activity.  If the Scout works with an occupational or physical therapist, ask questions and try to use exercises that the Scout already needs to do for therapeutic purposes.  Even with a disability, a Scout benefits from the discipline and activity of exercise, and the Scout can certainly show improvement as the physical fitness requirements ask.