Summer Camp and Exclusion at the YMCA

This spring I wrote about Inclusion at Zoo Camp for my son Nico (and many other kids, of course). He goes in a few weeks and we’re all very excited.

Here’s a less happy story about summer camp.

An Ohio mother is suing a YMCA she says won’t accept her son into its general summer program, only offering the boy with Down syndrome a spot in its camp for kids with disabilities.
In addition to refusing to make reasonable accommodations for 6-year-old Steven Heffron, the Great Miami Valley YMCA uses him “as a poster child for its programs with the tag lines ‘Providing Opportunities for Everyone,'” the federal lawsuit, which includes photos of YMCA promotional material featuring Steven, says.
“Each time they just said no, that it wasn’t safe, the environment wasn’t safe,” she told NBC News. “It’s more like he’s a liability, but that’s not my fault.”


The YMCA’s response, he said, was that it didn’t have sufficient staffing or training to make sure Steven was safe in its general summer program, but said it welcomed him at Camp Campbell Gard — which Watts maintains is for disabled campers.
If that’s true, it is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Kevin Truitt, an attorney with non-profit Disability Rights Ohio.
“The child has a right to be in an integrated program. They can offer what are called segregated programs, which is just children with disabilities, but he has the right to be in an integrated program for children without disabilities,” Truitt told NBC News. “They have to accommodate his needs to ensure he has the same access to this program as any other child.”
With the YMCA not budging, Watts will send Steven to the camp for special needs so he doesn’t spend the summer cooped up in their apartment. The lawsuit seeks for accommodations to be made for Steven at all of the YMCA’s programs, plus unspecified damages.

The lawsuit is the right move. The YMCA is using “safety” to justify segregation. It’s a total cop-out. It’s one with which we’re very familiar.

I believe the YMCA doesn’t have staffing or training – so go call the National Inclusion Project, hire more people, and train everybody.

2 Replies to “Summer Camp and Exclusion at the YMCA”

  1. AutismX3Mom says:

    Sorry if this sounds mean but she should be happy that she has the option of a Special Needs Camp. I would love to have one around here, instead my son is not allowed at camp unless I pay for an aid. Which costs 5 times what the camp costs which means it is not affordable.

    1. Anonymous says:

      No, she's right to be standing up for her son's rights to be in the same camp as non-disabled kids if that's what he wants.

      This isn't about resources for parents. Of course that's something that matters, but it's actually not the issue here. Her kid's civil rights are the issue here, and the ADA guarantees his right to take part in the same activities offered to non-disabled campers.

      It sounds like your local camp might not be in compliance, either, and it's not just a financial barrier to you, it's a denial of your son's *rights.*

      This is about our rights as disabled citizens.

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