Saturday, July 23, 2011

Introduction to Disabilities Awareness and support

We hope that the summer is going well and we hope that for those of you who have gone to summer camp it has gone smoothly and for those that will be going we hope that all will go smoothly. 

About a month ago, I was asked by the Autism Society of Southwest Washington to sit on a panel of people talking about activities within the Southwest Washington area for children with Autism.  I was honored to represent the Boy Scouts of America and scouting in general. I asked my District Executive if he would like to attend with me and I was pleased that he accepted.

I had never talked to our District Executive and he was new to position so I was not sure how he would respond to the concept of promotion of the Boy Scouts to groups like the Autism Society whose main membership is comprised of would be scouts with disabilities. The conversation that we had was wonderful and he agreed that more training both on the District and Council level is needed to better integrate those with different abilities.  

Before we started, he pulled out a document talking about Scouts with Disabilities and Special Needs. I had thought I had seen most things put out by the BSA (Boy Scouts of America) on the subject but had never seen this before.  When I asked about the document, he said he could not find much on the subject and he put it together. I was so impressed that he is dedicated to the cause of better training and acceptance for those on the Autism Spectrum and all scouts with disabilities.

If you have not already "liked" the Autism and Scouting page, please do so, we have reached 71 and would like to get to 75 by the end of the month.

Thanks Brian for all of your support and this was re-printed with his permission. He has also given me permission to send it via word document to anybody that would like this. If you would like this to share with your leadership, please let me know and I will be more than happy to send a word document version to you.
If you would like a copy you can leave a message on the Autism and Scouting Facebook Page or e-mail me at   

To follow is the document that he had put together.

Scouts with Disabilities and Special Needs


Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has had fully participating members with physical, mental and emotional disabilities. James E. West, the first Chief Scout Executive, was a person with a disability. Although most of the BSA’s efforts have been directed at keeping such boys in the mainstream of Scouting, it has also recognized the special needs of those with severe disabilities.

The Boy Scout Handbook has had Braille editions for many years; merit badge pamphlets has been recorded on cassette tapes for the blind; and closed-caption training videos have been produced for those who are deaf. In 1965, registration of over-age Scouts with mental disabilities became possible – a privilege now extended to many people with disabilities.

Recognition of Needs

The basic premise of Scouting for youth with disabilities and special needs is that they want most to participate like other youth – and Scouting gives them that opportunity. Thus, much of the program for Scouts with disabilities and special needs is directed at (1) helping unit leaders develop an awareness of disabled people among youth without disabilities and (2) encouraging the inclusion of Scouts with disabilities and special needs in Cub Scout packs, Boy Scouts troops, Varsity Scout teams, Venturing crews, and Sea Scout Ships.

There are many units, however, composed of members with similar disabilities or special needs – such as an all-sight-impaired Boy Scout troop, or an all-hearing-impaired Cub Scout Pack – but these members are encouraged to participate in Scouting activities at the district, council, area, regional and national levels along with other youth. Many of these special Scouting units are located in special schools or centers that make the Scouting program part of their curriculum.

Many of the more than 300 BSA local councils have established their own advisory committees for youth with disabilities and special needs. These committees develop and coordinate an effective Scouting program for youth with disabilities and special needs, using all available community resources. Local councils also are encouraged to provide accessibility in their camps by removing physical barriers so that youth with disabilities and special needs can participate in weekend and summer resident camp experiences. Some local council’s also have professional staff members responsible for the program for members with disabilities.


Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scouts and Ventures with disabilities and special needs participate in the same program as do their peers.

The BSA’s policy has always been to treat members with disabilities and special needs as much like other members as possible, but a local council may make some accommodations in advancement requirements if necessary. A Scout with a permanent physical or mental disability may select an alternate merit badge in lieu of a required merit badge if his disabling condition prohibits the Scout from completing the necessary requirements of a particular required badge. This substitute should provide a similar learning experience.  Full guidelines and explanations are available through the local council and on the Application for Alternative Eagle Scout Rank Merit Badges, No. 58-730. The local council advancement committee must approve the application.  A Scout may not request changes in the Tenderfoot, Second Class and First Class ranks. The procedures are described in the Boy Scout Requirement book, No. 33215.

The policy is designed to keep youth with disabilities and special needs as much in the mainstream as possible. Practical suggestions are made to leaders as to approaches and methods they can use. Thus, a youth in a wheelchair can meet the requirements for hiking by making a trip to places of interest in his community. Giving more time and permitting the use of special aids are other ways leaders can help youth with disabilities and special needs in their efforts to advance. The unit leader plays a crucial role in that effort.

Program Developments

BSA local councils have formed cooperative relationships with agencies, school districts and other organizations in serving disabled people.  Many of these organizations have played a part in the development of literature, audiovisual aids and media in Braille for Scouts with Disabilities and their leaders.

Each year, the BSA presents the national Woods Service Award to an adult in Scouting who has demonstrated exceptional service and leadership in the field of Scouting and disabled people (given by the Woods Service in Langhorne, Pennsylvania). The Woods Service Award is the highest recognition awarded by the BSA in the area of service. The Torch of Gold Award is available for similar presentation by local councils.

Other national support projects include materials relating to disabled and special needs people in the National Camping School syllabi as well as production of special manuals on Scouting for youth with emotional disabilities, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, visual impairments and mental disabilities and those who are deaf. A weeklong training course for people working with youth with disabilities is offered each summer at the Philmont Training Center.

In August 1977, the first handicap awareness trail was incorporated into the program for the national Scout Jamboree at Moraine State Park in Pennsylvania. More than 5,000 Scouts participated. Since then, many local councils have created their own awareness trails, designed to make nondisabled people aware of the many problems faced by people with disabilities and special needs. Recent, Scout jamborees have continued this tradition.  Some local councils hold handicamporees that feature camping and outdoor activities for youth with disabilities.

An interpreter stripe for Signing for the Deaf can be earned by all Scouts.

Requirements and pamphlet for a Disabilities Awareness merit badge are designed to help many thousands of America’s youth develop a positive attitude toward individuals with disabilities and special needs. This attitude, based on study and personal involvement of people with disabilities, creates an excellent foundation for acceptance, mainstreaming and normalization of those with disabled.  The learning experiences provided by working toward the Disabilities Awareness merit badge help produce changes in the attitudes of America’s youth as they pursue new experiences and then share their new knowledge with friends.

For more information please contact:
(The balance of the page is contact information)
James E. West 

End Document

A special thank you to Brian Blachly our District Executive who really gets it and is a wonderful leader!

Please leave your comments and ideas for future blogs. 

Support our Scouts

No comments:

Post a Comment