By Michael Hill
Thousands of New Jersey children will go to camp this summer and the U.S. Attorney’s Office wants camps to make reasonable accommodations so disabled kids can have fun, too.
It’s issued a flyer reminding camps to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That means evaluate each disabled child, don’t charge their parents for reasonable modifications and train camp staff about the law.
“However, sometimes it doesn’t work out well and we need additional staff,” said West Essex YMCA Executive Director Helen Flores.
Flores says thanks to a grant the Y’s camps this summer will have one counselor for every two special needs campers and more adaptive sporting equipment — like bigger tennis rackets, paint brushes and soft balls — so all campers can stay mainstreamed.
“We are sure that this is going to be successful and the beginning of something great for West Essex and the special needs community,” she said.
The West Essex Y invites parents to have disabled campers try the camps out for a couple days. Flores says that acknowledges camps do have limits.
“Unfortunately, there are. If a child is in a wheelchair, we can accommodate them. But, if they need help in toileting and lifting and moving them from a wheelchair and into a bathroom stall, that could be difficult for us,” Flores said.
After a complaint and trial, a judge ruled the Evesham Township Triple A summer camp accommodated a 6-year-old camper with multiple disabilities. But, when the camp expelled him without warning because he was disruptive, the judge ruled “the camp violated the [state] LAD [law against discrimination] … by not following the disciplinary plan that applies to all disruptive campers.”
“They’ve never been designed for kids with disabilities. They’re not used to having kids with disabilities,” said Disability Rights New Jersey Managing Attorney Mary Ciccone.
That’s what Disability Rights New Jersey says about traditional camps and so it has this advice for parents and camps.
“Communication is first and foremost the biggest issue and it starts not on the first day of camp. It should be going on before that kid comes to camp,” Ciccone said.
New Jersey Division on Civil Rights say since the Evesham case in 2012 it hasn’t received any disability accommodation complaints against any camps or recreational facilities. The U.S. Attorney’s Office says not actively charging any camp in New Jersey with violating the ADA. Still on Friday it issued that advisory.
The U.S. Attorney for New Jersey says “a disability is no reason to deny a child a chance to enjoy the friendships and learning experiences available at summer camps. Reasonable accommodations are not an option; they are a requirement under the law.”
“We try to build their self respect. A lot of these children feel diminished in front of other children and we don’t want that,” Flores said.
Flores says the goal is having fun, not a legal fight.