Camp Unity Stresses Inclusion

You’ve seen them, countless summer camps held for children with this or that kind of disability – a place where they don’t have to feel different. Sounds like a feel good kind of an idea, but we are shortchanging the kids with this system, ALL kids.
Camps that specialize in kids with “special needs” is what modern day segregation looks like. We need to look to change society’s attitudes if kids with disabilities feel “different” when attending a mainstream summer camp. As a nation we have worked hard since the 1970’s to include kids with disabilities in general education classrooms. Over 20 years of research shows that it’s working. No study since the 1970’s has shown an academic advantage for students with disabilities when segregated in special needs classrooms. Studies have also found that there is no compromise to children without disabilities’ education when students with disabilities are included in their classrooms. Research states all students made comparable or greater gains in math and reading when taught in inclusive settings. And a society that is inclusive of people, regardless of ability, makes it easier for kids with disabilities to transition into adulthood, find training, and employment.

Camp UNITY breaks down those barriers and provides the best inclusive camp experience around. The 4th annual overnight camp was held in late August at Camp Jonah in Trout Lake, Washington. Camp UNITY is a one of a kind camp offered through Special Olympics Washington that j focuses on inclusive sports & leadership for High School students with and without disabilities in grades 9 -12. Camp UNITY provides a unique experience for all that are involved, where campers with and without disabilities are participating as campers, not counselors or “helpers”. This is very different from many camps across the state and the country. Counselors also follow the same model of having counselors with and without disabilities.
Campers had fun playing Frisbee golf, even playing at night with the help of glow sticks, water balloon fights, explored caves, and provided entertainment with skits, songs, and more. “It was a fun experience. My favorite part was the rock climbing,” said camper Hunter Clark. Camper Sam Leeper said, “My favorite part was the night Frisbee and getting to meet new people!”
And that’s where Camp UNITY is working to make systemic change. By sending these campers out in their communities to spread the message of respect, acceptance, and unity in their own high schools over the next 4 years. Writer Jillian Benfield explains it best. “People with disabilities are not separated from those of us without disabilities in the real world, so why would we separate them at school (or camp)? It’s not reflective of the world we live in. It’s not ethical. It’s time to stop this modern day segregation.”
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