Here are observations by Janet Kelly, a member of the National SND Committee and Woods Services honoree.
It’s one thing to work with a Scout who has a disability, but it’s another thing to work with a Scouter who has a disability. The difference between skill sets is very different.
I am a Scouter with a profound hearing loss. I am pretty sure I have, over the years, opened up a few hearts being who I am. On the other hand, I have probably closed a few doors as well. Having a disability can get in the way of anything, but where there’s a gentle will there’s a way.
As adults, we should be role models for self-advocacy. Aggressiveness is not the answer. I’m talking about behavior that is calm and rational, but assertive. Our role is to help youth understand the difference! It is especially helpful when an adult who has special needs role models this positive, self-advocating behavior.
When we are our own advocates, we calmly and positively state our needs. For example, because I don’t hear very well, one of the things I need is to be near the speaker, watching his/her lips in a well lit room with minimal background noise. I can also position myself throughout the event so that I am in clear view of the speaker. I can get up in front of the crowd and explain my needs. This is most helpful, as now everyone knows what’s going on and there will be many more people willing to assist.
A person with an invisible disability, mostly goes unnoticed. Take for example an assistant Scoutmaster who has dyslexia. The Scouter could ask for assistance in proofreading an important letter to parents or have someone jot down notes during a meeting. What about the volunteer parent attending a district campout who has celiac disease? Well in advance of the event, that person could provide educational information to those involved with food prep as to what exactly that person needs nutritionally.
The point is, if we don’t explain and educate, no one will learn and be helpful. We can’t expect others to bear our responsibility, even if they know our needs. I am always reminding and jumping in to help myself hear better. No one minds; they understand, because I have helped them to understand.
That is self-advocacy.
It requires patience, teaching, flexibility, working alongside others, and getting involved so all get to know you and your needs. Being a Scouter who follows the Scout Oath and Law, you will need to understand the parameters of the event in which you’re participating, and seek out those in charge and help them to understand your needs. Reminding, teaching, flexing, researching, and brainstorming will help you move forward.
Above all, remain positive and cheerful through it all, knowing good will come out of it. You have no idea how many Scouts and Scouters will be moved by you.