Parents of Children with Disabilities and Summer Camp Planning: 3 Things to Know

Jennifer Lin Perry May 19, 2020

Yes, it’s that time of year when parents and guardians are busy trying to finalize plans for summer activities for their children. For many families, that involves exploring summer camp options. If you are a parent or guardian of a child with a disability, remember that your child has rights under the ADA re: summer camp. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) along with US Attorney’s offices nationwide, issued a notice (PDF) in May, 2015, to reinforce the importance of inclusion when it comes to summer camps In part, the notice states:

“Children with learning, mental health, or physical disabilities have the same rights to attend summer camp as their non-disabled peers and cannot be denied admission due to their disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that summer camps (both private and those run by towns or municipalities) must provide reasonable modifications of their policies, practices, and procedures when necessary to enable campers with disabilities to participate fully in camp programs, unless the camp can demonstrate that the necessary modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the services and activities offered by the camp.”

Here are three things for parents and guardians to consider:

#1 - Camps are required to have a Nondiscrimination Policy under the ADA and you can ask to review it. This policy should make it clear that the camp will not discriminate against any individual on the basis of disability, and that the camp will make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures when such modifications are necessary to afford equal access to camp services and facilities to individuals with disabilities, unless the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the camp’s services.

#2 - Reach out to the camp as early as you can to discuss appropriate reasonable accommodations or modifications for your child in advance of the start of camp season. Ideally, the camp posts the name and contact information for the appropriate individual to contact for this purpose. If it is not readily apparent, then request to speak with the camp director about accessibility accommodations. Camps are required to evaluate each child and their accommodation needs on an individual basis. Most importantly, when determining if a child with a disability is able to participate in programs/activities, camps must not react to unfounded preconceptions or stereotypes about what children with disabilities can or cannot do, or how much assistance they may require. Instead, camps must make an individualized assessment about whether it can meet the particular needs of the child without fundamentally altering its program. Sometimes a simple discussion with parents or guardians can result in an effective reasonable accommodation that camps can implement.

#3 - Remember that the ADA requires that camp staff, as a reasonable accommodation for campers with disabilities, administer certain medications that may be required by campers with disabilities, such as insulin and emergency medications, such as glucagon and Diastat, as well as Epi-Pens. It would be considered a violation of the ADA if a camp, as a course of practice, rejects children with disabilities based on a policy prohibiting non-licensed staff from administering medication.  

If you have questions about the obligations of summer camps under the ADA, feel free to contact the Northeast ADA Center at 1.800.949.4232 or via email at Happy Summer!

Jennifer Perry has worked in the accessibility field for over 19 years, with a focus primarily on design and construction issues. Before joining the Northeast ADA Center in 2014, Jennifer worked for United Spinal Association as a Compliance Specialist, proving plan review, site assessments and training programs to assist design professionals and building owners with state and federal accessibility compliance concerns. Prior to her role as a Compliance Specialist, Jennifer worked in United Spinal's Government Relations Program, where she advocated for the rights of people with disabilities in both Advocacy and Legislative roles. Jennifer holds a BA in Political Science and French from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, PA and is a registered International Code Council (ICC) Accessibility Specialist/Plans Examiner. She has served on several ICC Task Groups, including the Visitability and Government Relations Task Groups. She was a member of the Philadelphia Accessibility Advisory Board from 1998–2005, and currently serves as the Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania. Jennifer and her family live in Sea Girt, New Jersey.