V: Advancement Alternatives



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This Module in pDF:

This module is for Scouting volunteers and professionals who are entrusted with evaluating whether Scouts with special needs or disabilities qualify for exceptions from the regular requirements of the advancement system.  It does not replace the rules for advancement found in the Guide to Advancement (2021) (BSA 33088), which is the authoritative document.  Rather this module provides insight and perspective to assist you in applying the Guide to Advancement.  The decision-making is left to the authorized volunteers and professionals.

For the remainder of this module, we assume you have already read the Guide to Advancement and are familiar with the portions that apply to Scouts with special needs and disabilities (Section 10).  You may also want to review Module E, which discusses advancement from the perspective of the Scout, the family, and the unit leadership.

The topic of registration beyond the age of eligibility (RBAE) is discussed in this module as it is often, but not always, handled by the council advancement committee.


Before commenting on the mechanics of reviewing applications for exceptions, a few philosophical points are in order.

Every Scout is Unique – Every Scout is unique, whether the Scout has a special need/disability or not.  This means that each time you evaluate a Scout’s request for an exception, the details of the disabilities will be different and the process you use to evaluate the request may need to reflect the situation.  Fundamentally, this is why the BSA leaves it up to trusted and trained volunteers and professionals to make these judgements.  It is impossible to write a rulebook or scoring system that could assess every situation fairly.

Scouts Grow Over Time – Most youth with special needs or disabilities are going to mature in many ways during the years they are in Scouting.  While Cub Scout advancement is designed to reset the clock with each school year, in other Scouting programs advancement challenges are expected to be met over a period of years.  Not everything is within the capability of a new 11 year old Scout, nor should it be.  Time is a factor to keep in mind when you evaluate the need for exceptions.  If you, in your role as evaluator, believe that the Scout will likely be able to complete the regular requirement in a year or two without delaying things too much, the committee may want to defer making a decision rather than approving or rejecting a request right away.  A delay will need to be balanced with the overall time available for the Scout to earn the rank he or she is striving toward.  The decision to defer a decision will need to be explained to the people closest to the Scout, and ideally, the committee will set a time in the future to reconsider the application.

What is Expected of Scouts without Disabilities – A Scout rank is a multi-faceted array of challenges, and a typical youth will find some tasks easier than others. If a Scout with a special need finds that a few requirements are really hard to complete, many requirements are doable but take an effort, and a few requirements are really easy; he or she is effectively “typical”.  At the other extreme, if there is a requirement or required badge that a Scout could not possibly complete, a reasonable alternative is needed. We want it to be challenging for a Scout with a disability to earn a rank, like it is for everyone, but not unfairly difficult. There are no guarantees that any individual will be able to become an Eagle Scout.[1]

What is Important about a Requirement? – Scout requirements usually have a purpose, but the purpose is rarely explained in the requirement itself.  When we look at creating an alternative requirement or badge we need to start by trying to understand what the intent of the original requirement was to begin with and how it relates to other requirements.  Then we can look for something else that could meet that intent.  For ideas, think about this (admittedly incomplete) list of possible intent:

  • Show knowledge was attained
  • Have an experience or a variety of experiences
  • Learn or try a skill
  • Think something through on a higher level
  • Consider your future
  • Face and overcome fear or adversity
  • Show compassion or serve others
  • Learn to teach or lead

Some Requirements May Only Require an Accommodation – An accommodation does not change the requirement, only the circumstances of how it is completed. Sometimes, changing the circumstances may allow a merit badge to be completed “as written” without having to apply for an alternative merit badge. Accommodations are best explained with a few examples:

  • Allowing a buddy or lifeguard to be nearby in the water for a swimming/water rescue requirement.
  • Having a quiet space or special lighting to work by.
  • Allowing the Scout to complete the requirement at a different time of day than usual.
  • Allowing a requirement that is usually done on an overnight campout to be done indoors or at another type of event.
  • Allowing a second person to serve as the eyes, ears, or hands of the Scout.
  • Allowing the Scout to use notes or memory aids.
  • Allowing the task to be broken into smaller steps that are done at different times.
  • Allowing unconventional tools or materials to be used for the task.

Comparable Challenge – The honor that goes with the rank needs to be deserved, and it needs to mean the same thing over time. We want all Scouts that earn a rank to have been challenged in a way that is fair to everyone who earns that rank; past, present, and future.  The challenge of advancement for Scouts with special needs is to be fair.  As all parents know “fair” is not always “the same as for everyone else”.  Even “challenge” is difficult to measure because it could mean different things in different circumstances, such as required strength/skill, level of effort, amount of time needed, or the quality of the product made.  So if we assume the objective of alternative requirements is to make a rank about as hard for a Scout with a disability to earn as it is for a typical Scout, there will always be a devil in the details.

Life is Harder for a Scout with a Special Need or Disability – The defining attribute of a special need or disability is that the condition makes ordinary life more difficult. What will vary is which life functions are harder and by how much.  It is good for an evaluator to remember that such a Scout may have had a much harder time than other Scouts just doing the regular requirements that he or she could complete.  While there is no provision in the Guide to Advancement for “life-learning credit” or to simply waive requirements, it might not be fair to make an alternative requirement take as much effort as the original requirement would for a typical Scout.  An evaluator is encouraged to look at the entire body of work of the Scout relative to his or her specific disabilities when considering alternative requirements and badges.

A Person with a Disability Has a Support Team – With rare exceptions, a team of people have rallied around a Scout with a special need or disability.  In addition to parents, guardians, grandparents, and siblings, you will find teachers, health professionals, fellow Scouts, and Scout leaders.  These people have also made sacrifices to support the Scout and have a vested interest in the outcome of the decisions about exceptions to regular advancement requirements.  If the advancement committee decides to deny a request for an exception, the “team” needs to come away understanding the decision and feeling that the situation was evaluated completely and fairly.  Since you won’t know in advance what you will decide, you need to handle the process of the evaluation in a transparent and supportable manner from the beginning.     


The Guide to Advancement does not dictate specific procedures for reviewing requests for alternative requirements or remaining a Scout beyond the typical age limit[2], nor does this Inclusion Toolbox. While that allows for flexibility for councils to create processes that work best for them, the processes your council uses need to be thought out in advance and codified.  It is important for the users of your evaluation system (members of your council) to be able to know what the steps are, what documentation and forms they will need, who their points of contact are, how long to expect to wait for answers, and how they can appeal a decision if it comes to that.  Having an organized and consistent process makes it easier for applicants to accept the decisions that are made. It is also important for the council professional staff to have access to and understanding of these processes so they can respond to questions quickly and accurately.

Document Limitations – While certain documents are mentioned in the Guide to Advancement to be submitted to request an exception to regular advancement or age; these documents have limitations and may not be enough by themselves for a proper evaluation.  The BSA annual health and medical record (AHMR or “medical form”) was designed for different purposes than documenting a disability and does not have much space for explanations.  Statements from health professionals will likely use specialized terminology that may be unfamiliar to you.  Some of the supporting documents will be written by people that are unfamiliar with the Scouting program and therefore may misunderstand what the Scout would be asked to do.

Subject Matter Expertise – The Guide to Advancement recommends getting help from subject matter experts when evaluating individual requests for exceptions[3].  It is preferable to have an advisor that has good knowledge of the effects of the disabilities and good knowledge of the Scouting program.

Councils are encouraged to form Special Needs & Disabilities Committees (see Module U for more details) to support Scouts with special needs and disabilities in various ways.  Some of these committees are organized under the council advancement committee and others are placed in other parts of the organizational structure.  Ideally, a Special Needs & Disabilities Committee has members with subject matter knowledge on different kinds of disabilities or has a network of knowledgeable people who do.  This is the first resource for technical assistance.

However, they are also councils that have yet to form a Special Needs & Disabilities Committee.  The evaluators still need subject matter knowledge to put the requests into proper context, even if they do not have ready access to experts.  This is one reason why Modules H through S of the Inclusion Toolbox were created.  These modules describe different special needs and disabilities in the Scouting context and can give more insight. 

Face to Face Meetings – The most straightforward way to get to know the Scout and the effects of the disabilities is to have a face-to-face meeting(s) with the Scout, his or her family, and the unit leader.  This is allowed or encouraged by the Guide to Advancement in sections,, and, but is not required.  The style of such a meeting would typically be similar to a Board of Review (BOR), with a parent or advocate present to help the Scout and the evaluators communicate.  Like a BOR, we do not want to test or retest the Scout, but to get to know the Scout.  Unlike a BOR, the evaluators may also want to ask questions of the caregivers for the Scout.


The registration beyond the age of eligibility (RBAE) process often falls to the council advancement committee and is addressed in the Guide to Advancement.  The council executive board is officially responsible for reviewing RBAE applications, but they can delegate that responsibility to another council committee[4].  Most often that is the council advancement committee, but not always.  That is why the instructions are to send the application to the council Scout executive.

The criteria for RBAE are explained in detail in the Guide to Advancement Section and do not bear repeating here.  RBAE is not appropriate for most special needs or disabilities.  RBAE is used when a Scout or potential Scout’s intellectual capability is much different from his or her physical age.  RBAE by itself is not sufficient to ensure that the Scout, or the other Scouts in the unit, can be well served by the Scouting program.  The challenge is that a Scout with these disabilities is usually living life on two levels at once.  The Scout is living as an adult in many ways and is being supported and trained to be as independent in his or her living as possible.  In this sense, a Venturing program may be the best match for the Scout.  On the other hand, the Scout is functioning in a more child-like way in terms of intellectual pursuits and having fun.  In that sense, the activities associated with Cub Scouting or Scouts BSA may be more appropriate.  This combination of needs is difficult to meet in a traditional unit. Though not a formal part of the RBAE approval process, the committee that considers the request for RBAE status is in a good position to counsel the Scout and family and help put them in touch with a unit that will fit their needs well.


The BSA can be proud of the training we make available to our volunteer leaders and professionals.  However, there are rare times when Scout units or individual leaders create their own rules and processes for advancement that deviate from national policy.  There are also rare situations when the local or individual interpretation of national policy results in an error of judgment or an injustice. There are also times when Scouts and families misunderstand what is being asked of the Scout and believe a requirement was completed in a satisfactory manner when it was not.  When these situations happen, the council advancement committee often ends up being responsible for dealing with those who suffered as a result.

An event may or may not result in a formal appeal, depending on whether or not the misfortune was the result of a formal decision.  Either way, an appeal needs to be given deeper investigation than the original decision, so that there is additional information to consider.  The aggrieved party needs the opportunity to be heard directly on the issue.  The original decision makers should have an opportunity to explain themselves and their reasoning.  While reaching a consensus between the stakeholders is desirable, it is not always possible.

It is important to recognize that how an appeal is handled and how the outcome is delivered are important in and of themselves.  By the time someone has made an appeal, that person no longer has a purely intellectual interest in the outcome.  There is an emotional dimension as well as they protect the interests of others.  That isn’t surprising considering that several Scout Laws have emotional dimensions.  Furthermore, BSA members hold themselves and others in the organization to higher standards for honesty and integrity than they would another person. Those whose decisions are being challenged also have an emotional investment because strong feelings are triggered when it seems that your skill or reasonableness is being challenged.

[1] Guide to Advancement Section

[2] The process for a time extension for the Eagle rank is codified in some detail in the Guide to Advancement, in recognition that this process needs to be completed both quickly and responsibly.  The length of an extension that can be approved at the council level is six months maximum.

[3] This also applies to Scouts in smaller specialized programs like Venturing and Sea Scouting, where the members of the council advancement committee may not be fully familiar with the differences from Scouts BSA advancement.

[4] It should not be delegated to an individual or a district committee.