There is a seemingly simple goal at BC Easter Seals Camps that sets the atmosphere and spirit of the program: to inspire, empower and encourage children with disabilities to reach their own potential through fully accessible programming and facilities. In reality, achieving this goal is anything but simple. Since the camps serve both kids and young adults with physical and/or cognitive disabilities, the term “accessible” means something very different to every camper. While we do everything we can to ensure that each camp has the right equipment, structures and staff training, it’s really up to the camp counsellors to use their amazing powers of creativity to make our goal of accessibility a reality.
Let’s take a look at Charlotte for example. Charlotte is 11 years old and has been a camper at Camp Shawnigan for 5 years. She has a medical condition which requires her to lay horizontally at all times so in order to get around at camp, her support workers and camp counsellors push her in a portable hospital bed. This doesn’t stop Charlotte from participating in camp activities; she especially loves singing – there isn’t a dry eye in the house during her talent show performances. There are some activities, however, that are more challenging to make accessible for Charlotte. One of these is going swimming – partly because of a lack of equipment and partly because Charlotte uses a tube that cannot get wet.
One summer, the staff at Camp Shawnigan were determined to get Charlotte into the pool. The camp lifeguards chose to take time out of their daily break to open up the pool especially for Charlotte – her own private pool party! Along with Charlotte’s counsellors and support workers, the lifeguards created a makeshift raft she could lay on, and adapted a life jacket to keep her tube dry. When she entered the water, her eyes lit up. She was so excited because even though she was laying on a raft, she could still splash and play and feel the sensation of floating.
Year after year we get the same feedback from camper parents: the counsellors at BC Easter Seals camps go above and beyond every single day to find ways for campers to participate in any activity they want to try. We can’t force staff to take these extra measures or teach them solutions for every accessibility issue. We can provide tools and resources, but ultimately it is the willingness and eagerness of the camp counsellors to give campers the best week of their lives and make the impossible, possible.
We are so grateful for the amazing staff each year who dedicate their summer to being goofy, loving, fun, and responsible so that we can make camp the best place on Earth!