Special Needs & Disabilities Scouting
“Every child deserves to have a positive experience in Scouting.”
Karen Bengtson, Middle Tennessee Council Commissioner
The Middle Tennessee Council (MTC) is committed to making Scouting accessible and enjoyable to all Scouts, regardless of their abilities. Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has included fully participating members with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. The BSA's policy is to treat members with disabilities as much like other members as possible. It has been traditional, however, to make some accommodations in advancement if absolutely necessary. By adapting the environment and/or our instruction methods, most Scouts with disabilities can be successful in Scouting.
The basic premise of Scouting for youth with disabilities is full participation. Youth with disabilities can be treated and respected like every other member of their unit. They want to participate like other youth - and Scouting provides that opportunity.
An individual is considered to have a disability if he/she:
has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities - seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, caring for oneself, and working,
has a record of such an impairment, or
is regarded as having such an impairment.
The National Special Needs & Disabilities Committee developed a Toolbox to bridge the gap between more general sources of disabilities information and the Methods of Scouting. The purpose of the Inclusion Toolbox for Special Needs and Disabilities is to provide a single comprehensive reference source for disabilities information for the BSA Scouting community.
Access the Inclusion Toolbox HERE
The National BSA office has helpful information on it’s Special Needs & Disabilities Website that can be accessed here: https://www.scouting.org/resources/disabilities-awareness/ This website includes general information, webinars and training modules.
How to register Scouts with Special Needs
There is no special registration process for Scouts with a disability or special need or procedure to collect such information. Find a unit to join near you at https://www.mtcbsa.org/resources
Parents need to discuss with leaders about any accommodations needed. A good unit can and does make simple accommodations for individual members whenever possible. If the youth has mobility or health restrictions that will affect activities, these are generally collected on the Annual Health and Medical Record and kept in case of a medical emergency by the unit leadership or health and safety officer. Leaders and camp staff and event staff don’t share this information with the entire staff, so parents may find it helpful to talk directly to leaders and staff working with their children about any accommodations needed or strategies that would be helpful.
Advancement for Members With Special Needs
Youth with physical disabilities and youth and adults with developmental or cognitive challenges are welcome in the Boy Scouts of America. As outlined in the Guide to Advancement, various accommodations exist to facilitate advancement. Youth with special needs do not need to join a special unit oriented to serving members with disabilities, although those exist and may be beneficial in some cases. The severity of disability will indicate how members should be registered. When knowledgeable parents, guardians, or volunteers are able to provide assistance and oversight, almost anyone can be a member. While leaders should be enthusiastic about helping those with special needs, they should also recognize the demands that will be placed on their patience, understanding, and skill in working on advancement.
Scouts who have disabilities may qualify for limited flexibility in advancement. Unit leaders and parents can develop an Individual Scout Advancement Plan (ISAP) to document proposed and approved alternative advancement requirements.
Camping for Scouts with Special Needs
Preparation is key for successful camping with special needs and disabled Scouts. The unit leader should take time to think about each Scout as an individual and how they will react to camp routine, especially for those who have not attended camp before. If Scouts have anxieties about unfamiliar places, make the camp familiar ahead of time.
Council Camping Director, Jason Flannery, is the best resource for use of Middle Tennessee Council camping facilities, especially Boxwell Reservation in Lebanon, TN, where summer camp takes place. Jason can be reached at email@example.com.
Abilities Digest Newsletter
Abilities Digest is a quarterly newsletter about Scouting and special needs designed for Scout leaders, volunteers and parents. Any Scouting parent, volunteer, or professional may subscribe. Follow Abilities Digest on Facebook.
Contact Linda Carter, Assoc. Development Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org