Ah, the dog days of summer. You are looking forward to going to a beachside resort, or you’re wanting to hike in the woods, or go chase squirrels off your porch. Any sort of thing will do, but when a family member is disabled or blind or what have you, the choice becomes, “What can this person do?” Well? In this post, I’m going to take a close look at the lives of some campers in a disabled people camp, and we will tell you, what you’re about to see is a shocker.
Ruth Ann was just 8 or so, and she attended the now defunct Florida Lions Camp. She was a cabin mate of mine in Cabin 12. Cabins had numbers or letters, and it seemed like a camp, but look deeper.
When Ruth Ann grows up, she doesn’t have as many options that allow her and other disabled adults to keep adult autonomy. Children and adults with disabilities face a very tough choice in the matter of camp.
Julie Morales would write frequent status updates on Facebook about her experiences at camp. What we see in the posts is anything but fostering adult independence. Julie sometimes says things about the kind of food offered, but when she wanted to go swimming in the camp’s pool, she and her husband, yes that’s right, her husband, were told they could NOT go swimming due to short staff needs. Oh the wonders of disabled camp. This puts the staff in charge of her, something she probably doesn’t want. Ugh.
How many of you adults with disabilities have faced the same story? Think about how many adults with disabilities have to bend to the wishes of counselors, something kids do. Let’s take a look at a sighted kids’ camp, and we’ll tell you, the quality of these camps is ten times better.
I’ll tell you a bit about my experiences at FSU’s Chorus Camp. To start, I had a teenage roommate, and we both had some girly fun, no counselor lived with us. Secondly, we were able to eat with a thousand different girls, all of this taking place in a dorm with a kitchen right below the bedrooms. Then, there was barely any sighted counselor problems, we did not have so much rigid structure! But we did have rehearsals, something you would expect from camps with musicians in it. I was thoroughly able to bond with the students, we being musicians. Something to take note of: there was a professor there that later became a very handy teacher and we’ve crossed paths again and again. Dr. J. Bowers, the best of all the chorus teachers, is someone I’d never not pause to honor. She is like one of those energy bars you can eat, and never eat another thing again. She had so much to offer the campers, and still works today with chorus kids. She crossed paths with both myself and a Maryland All State chorus member who is also blind. She has had nothing but the gold standard of teaching in mind, and I believe that with people like her in the chorus programs of all college and university camps and so on, we could create better musicians and singers. With the kind of energy Bowers brings to the table, we see that there can be a way for disabled musicians to bond with those who don’t have a disability. I had to sadly drop out of the tribe, the Seminole territory being far from inaccessible now that I’ve moved to Colorado for independence training and skills that sadly, no one at FSU could adequately equip me with.
The lesson here is that a subject based summer camp could work for your child. For instance, a blind person could attend a science camp, but with some accommodations. It may not be feasible to do a camp with others who have disabilities not sponsored by consumer groups like the National Federation of the Blind. They offer YouthSlam, a camp for young blind teens that focuses on science, tech, engineering, and math. The “stem” professions as they are called boast high demand, and NFB based science and technology camps can teach these youngsters about ways they can be innovative. There is a huge difference in this camp. One thing I would notice as well as the next guy is that this camp is geared for the blind. Science can sometimes be visual in the way it works, so a science camp for blind youth is essential. If your blind nerd child wants to be a programmer, this camp is perfect for this.
However, what about fashion and modeling camps? What about cheerleading? When you gave life to your child, was it ever on your mind that she could not cheer with other girls or that he couldn’t play football? I wrote much earlier that cheerleading and football are unimportant aspects of our society, and depending on your town, it just isn’t worth trying to force your son or daughter into a walled up cell called “I can’t cheerlead or play football.” Cheerleaders are often the seductive female figures in sports, so what is the point! Dance camp could be more appropriate.
We oftentimes wonder what our disabled adults can do. When your child ages out at eighteen, he or she cannot attend a regular camp. So the next question is an obvious one, what do you and your adult with disabilities do during the summer? What can be done to ease that person’s boredom? I wouldn’t recommend the kind of camp Julie and others attend, it being too supervised and not fostering adult independence.
What kind of solution could work? Well? Here’s a proposal.
I remember reading a status from my buddy Reina, a gifted programming nerd who also works a full time job, has multiple disabilities, and is so insightful in many areas. Reina was married once, then got rid of her husband, then she decided to go with someone else. Reina currently has lots of these posts up. One of these informative posts had a string of comments, commentary that actually offered a solution to the adult camp brouhaha.
One user says she’d like to see a tiki bar and a beach setting for a camp. That totally tickled my fancy when I saw that and then some. Just imagine all those adults with disabilities being allowed to sip some margaritas and sex on the beach and other kinds of rum beverages on a beach setting, the tiki umbrellas flapping in the breeze. The most ideal locations for this type of camp would be the coastal areas of Florida, anywhere from Miami Beach to the Ponte Vedra beaches around St. Augustine and so many other places. St. Augustine has lots of sites to see, including Castille de San Marcos, the Spanish Coquina fort famous for its choice of the tiny shells as construction bricks. Imagine the safety the Spanish had with this big wonder. Now, put that beach camp nearby. You’ve got a really great site for a really awesome camp.
You could also put the same camp in California’s coastal areas, Hawaii, and the Caribbean, but we’ll let you decide the cheapest location. The Caribbean is not always a friendly place for disabled folks, not always inclusive toward LGBT folks either. Try Antigua and see what that does.
I would not recommend Jamaica because of the expense and the frequent tourism there, worse off for gay people, the thought that Jamaica is dangerous for them as well. Jamaica, while it is a beautiful country full of fun and cultural differences, must conform to inclusivity to make the cut for this camp. It is the third poorest country in the world, so no wonder I wouldn’t pick it. Aruba is fine, but beware the possibility of another Natalie Holloway. Joran Van der Sleut, a young Dutch Aruban boy, was suspect in the case, this involving a mysterious disappearance. Awful, right?
Antigua and Barbuda is a beautiful dual island nation that is situated in the same sort of area. It is a beautifully inclusive area in many ways, and I can tell you that I’ve met several Antiguans. Antigua does not rank as poor as Jamaica but it does have some touristy places. If you’re looking for tiny villages, this might work. And yes, fun in the sun. And it is part of the British commonwealth, so the Queen or other British monarchy reigns as head of state. Britain has a good history behind it. Right next door to Antigua and Barbuda sits St. Kits and then the Grenadines. Whatever island we situate this camp on, it must be inclusive, fascinating, and pristine, fun in the sun.
Suppose you want a more mountainous region. I’d suggest Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Imagine this: you walk to a wooden cabin, some electricity, some form of signal, and then you just have one or two cabin mates, and then you got it. For an adult with a disability, this might work if they do not have heart problems stemming from congenital defects because the altitude could get the person dizzy even for average folks. But the mountains could be a great place to hang out. Imagine a few cabins with logs around a river, some woods, and some hiking spaces. You got it. And remember that the trails have to be wide enough to fit wheelchairs, but it would work with all that pretty scenery.
You could try the area of Maggie Valley, a picturesque location in the Appalachians, or the Great Smoky Mountains. Both regions are great choices, but think about the inclusive nature of each. Would you want your LGBT adult with disabilities to be told which bathroom to use based on the fact that they were born the opposite of who they are? Do you want your child with disabilities to be looked upon as an idiot or something? In Colorado, we boast a few different metropolitan sites, including a community center that helped get buses accessibly fit for wheelchair users. Go figure I chose Colorado.
For all people, think about the camp you want your member of the family to go to, and just let your mind wander. WE hope you enjoy the rest of the summer.