All can play at summer camp

 

Enable Ireland runs workshops for summer camp organisers to show how they can include disabled children, writes SYLVIA THOMPSON.

WHEN STAFF at Enable Ireland heard stories from parents about how some children with disabilities were being turned away from summer camps, they decided to take action.

Rather than try to negotiate on behalf of parents to get their children into camps, they opted to run a workshop for summer camp organisers.

“It was the first workshop of its kind that Enable Ireland has held,” says occupational therapist Sarah Boyle who ran the workshop with physiotherapist Ann Somers, both from Enable Ireland’s Bray office.

Organisers of summer camps in the north Wicklow region attended the workshop and listened to presentations from Oisin Jordan, national co-ordinator of the Football Association of Ireland’s Football for All programme, and Mark Barry, sports development officer with the Irish Wheelchair Association.

“The core reason for holding a workshop like this is to help summer camp coaches get over their fear of including children with disabilities,” says Jordan.

“Often organisers are worried about how to include a child with a disability without insulting or ridiculing him/her while at the same time keeping the other children happy. The fear can also be an easy excuse for not doing anything about it,” explains Jordan.

“What we want to do is to encourage coaches and summer camp co-ordinators to welcome the child first and then think of ways to make sure everyone enjoys the camp,” he says.

“Basically, what we are saying is that everyone is different in some way – different gender, age, height, weight and so on – and a child with a disability is just another child with different qualities and abilities.”

Jordan says summer camp organisers can make changes to specific games to make them more inclusive for children with physical disabilities.

So, for instance, a child in a wheelchair can be given a specific zone in which to play – so that when the ball is thrown to that area, he/she has to throw it to another team member or try to score.

Encouraging team members to aim for their personal best is another way to maintain competitiveness within the game without excluding anyone.

Mark Barry, the sports development officer with the Irish Wheelchair Association, agrees that certain games can be adapted to be more inclusive.

He gives an example of how when a wheelchair user plays tennis, the ball can be allowed to bounce twice before hitting it. “We have been working with Carrickmines Croquet and Tennis Club which has introduced wheelchair tennis sessions on Saturday evenings,” explains Barry.

“Wheelchair users play with their brothers, sisters and friends and it has worked really well and we want other clubs to see that it can be done.

“It’s really about keeping an open mind, having the confidence and not panicking when a child with a disability comes along to a summer camp,” adds Barry.

Jordan says that all FAI camps aim to be inclusive although the numbers of children with disabilities coming through are still low.

“We have run short summer camps for children using power chairs because integrating these chairs into mainstream football is very difficult,” he explains.

The Football for All programme encourages participation by supporting football among people with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injuries and many other disabilities.

Jamie Begley, assistant general manager of Shoreline Bray leisure centre, attended the Enable Ireland inclusion workshop. “Basically, I went along to increase my awareness and confidence about including everyone in our summer camps.

“Activities such as swimming are disability friendly but I learned how games like soccer can be adapted to include children with disabilities.

“At first, I thought the idea of mapping out an area of the pitch for a child using a wheelchair was exclusive but then I realised how that child could become a very useful member of the team,” says Begley.

Some services for children with disabilities also run integrated summer camps in which the children with disabilities are the core group and their sisters, brothers and friends are welcome to join in too.

“We’ve been running integrated summer camps for 10 years now and they work very well. We link in with the local schools and children come back again and again,” explains Paula Coughlan, recreation coordinator for Cheeverstown House which offers services for people with intellectual disabilities.

“We find that at first the children who don’t have experience of children with disabilities are a bit stand-offish but by the end of the week, they are completely integrated, helping the other children in the camp.”

In the longer term, staff at Cheeverstown House would like to see children with disabilities integrated into mainstream summer camps.

Sarah Boyle believes it’s a question of prioritising integration. “A lot of sports organisations have disability officers but they haven’t gotten around to working on these issues,” she says.

“In the future, we would like to see more summer camp organisers coming to inclusion workshops in various parts of the country and we feel that by running this workshop, we are moving one step closer to achieving an inclusive summer camp culture.”