logo of the United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries
May 2011Vol. 1 No. 3

water slide at Extreme Vision camp 

Camps aren't just for kids!  Adult

campers using inflatable water slide

at Extreme Experience Vision Camp




of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection


May is the perfect month to encourage camp registration.  From its beginnings in 1992 the Task Force has worked to increase disability awareness and accessibility in our United Methodist camping programs.  We are pleased to share some exciting camping opportunities with you. 


You may not think that camping applies to you, but it is one of the keys to keeping our churches alive with a new generation of worshipers.  Camping reaches youth who may not be active in local churches, but who seek an experience of the Living God and of a loving community that accepts them as they are.  All children benefit from the special combination of nature, belonging, hearing stories of faith, playing and working together that camps provide. 


This issue features three annual conferences that strive to make their camps accessible to and inclusive of all campers.  We also lift up six new camps that target specific populations and are open to participants from their region and beyond.  We highlight Bradford Woods, a national model camp that uses the concept of Universal Design to provide features and structures that everyone can use.  The resources this month pertain to making camping a positive experience for all, especially for campers who may have attention deficit disorder or an autism spectrum diagnosis.


Happy Camping!


Lynn Swedberg, Editor

In This Issue
Conference Camping Programs Offer Unique Models of Inclusion
New Regional Camps Target Specific Needs
Universal Design at Bradford Woods Camp
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 Conference Camping Programs 

Offer Unique Models of Inclusion

Camps without Barriers in the Minnesota Annual Conference ensures that campers of all abilities are welcomed and able to participate fully in the camp of their choice.  The camping website includes the Conference non-discrimination policy.  Registration forms and a follow-up phone interview ask about supports needed.  The Integration Specialist Coordinator, Deacon Leslie Hobson, provides camp deans with the necessary information in time for program planning, and assigns an Integration Specialist to the camp if needed.  camper and staff on dockThis person is not one on one staff, but rather works with the entire camp on adapting activities and learning to accept campers with disabilities.  He or she may also provide respite to cabin leaders and assist with mobility and self-care tasks, for instance driving a golf cart to assist a camper who could not walk distances after surgery.  The goal is to be an unobtrusive shadow and role model who helps all campers feel included.  The Specialist may move from camp to camp each week.  Prior to camp, Leslie trains all paid and volunteer staff in disability awareness.  She is available for consultation during the week, and receives the end of camp evaluation forms which help her maintain a data base and plan for future years.


The Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Go Camping program is also known for their willingness to include campers with disabilities.  Lisa Jean Hoefner, program director, finds that parents often do not fully disclose issues for fear their child will be rejected.  The camps take a proactive approach to training all staff in anticipation of youth who may need extra support.  Some camps also include a volunteer Camp Listener or Camp Grandmother whose role is to be a calming presence, sitting beside a restless camper, assisting with a craft,  or listening to a child who needs individual attention. 


The Texas Annual Conference takes a different approach.  Their camps are offered by district, not age level, at the accessible Lakeview Methodist Conference Center.  Pastors identify special needs campers they are sending to camp, and the local church is requested to provide an extra one to one counselor for that week. 


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New Regional Camps Target Specific Needs


Some campers benefit from specialized camps, where they have a chance to relax and interact with others who live with similar disabilities. The UM camps below are open to persons from other annual conferences and denominations.  Check with your local church and Conference for scholarship information.  Spread the word, and support these new camps!


June 17-19 Camp Ability, Magruder (Oregon-Idaho AC)  A camp for families that include a youth with disabilities. Offers boating, beach play, campfire, crafts, donkey care and worship.  Family time is supplemented with respite and nurturing activities.  Families are housed together, making this a comfortable first camp experience.


June 26 - July 2 Discover Adventure Camp, Jumonville (W Pennsylvania AC)  A camp for persons with developmental or cognitive disabilities age 14 to adult who are looking for an active week of adventure including a float trip, overnight tent camping, ropes course, cook-outs, and hikes as well as a chance to grow in their faith.


July 7-9 Special Smiles, Camp Jo-Ota (Missouri AC)  A 3-day camp for youth 10 - 18 with mild to moderate developmental disabilities.  Facilities are accessible.  The goal is building self-esteem and independence through outdoor activities like canoeing, fishing, swimming as well as games, campfires, and opportunities for spiritual growth. 


July 10-16 Deaf Adults with Special Needs, Camp Innabah (E Pennsylvania AC)  A camp for Deaf persons 18 and above who have a developmental disability and who would benefit from staff fluent in American Sign Language.  Activities include crafts, boating, swimming, hayrides, campfire, and a field trip.


August 26-28 Autism Family Retreat, Jumonville (W Pennsylvania AC)  A weekend retreat that offers children with autism a mountaintop camp experience and their families free time as well as quality family time.  The camp provides hope through worship, rest, and relaxation in a safe Christian setting capable of caring for children with autism.


September 25-28 Extreme Experience Vision Camp, Blue Lake Camp

(W. Florida/ Alabama AC) A camp for adults who have low vision or are blind and want to improve their skills while experiencing new things.  Nature walks, a hayride,

campers using rope guide to access lake

archery, swimming, fishing, and use of an inflatable 16' slide are offered.  Worship includes singing and sharing life stories.







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Universal Design at Bradford Woods Camp


Universal design means that buildings and programs are thoughtfully planned and built to meet a variety of needs and preferences.  Features should be easy to use by people of all abilities and statures.  Two years ago the Task Force visited Bradford Woods in Indiana to see what a fully accessible camp looks like.  To download a PowerPoint presentation with more images of the camp, go to our web site and scroll to the end of the page, under Camps. 

Bradfords accessible horse mounting area

accessible horse mounting area


universal climbing structure at Bradford Woods

universal climbing wall structure


Bradford woods accessible amphitheater

accessible amphiteater- every bench folds up


Bradford Woods accessible swimming pool

pool with lift and ramp approaches






The National Center on Accessibility, a program of the Indiana University at Bloomington, offers extensive information about outdoor recreation accessibility that is applicable to all camps.  They offer research-based information on beaches, trails, universal challenge courses, picnic areas, and more. Bradford Woods is their testing site. Their staff has collaborated with government agencies and helped develop standards for various aspects of outdoor accessibility.  A helpful link for parents, grandparents, and church school teachers is Discover Camp: Considerations for Sending your Child with a Disability to Camp for the First Time.  The site lists questions that caregivers can ask to ensure that a camp can meet the child's needs, ways to prepare for camp, and suggestions for applying the skills campers will learn to activities they can seek out during the rest of the year. 

Asperger's and Autism at Camp: Supporting Campers with Social Challenges (2008) is from an American Camping Association (ACA) presentation by Jennifer Harber.  This DVD is full of practical hints and suggestions to help camps support and enjoys campers who process experiences differently.  Available through Healthy Learning.

Strategies for Working with Children Who Have Attention Deficits by Christopher Thurber and Assessing Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders for Their "Fit" at Camp by Linda Ebner Erceg are recent articles from the ACA Camping Magazine that offer insights and practical steps to take.    

Make this the year that you reach out to your local camp.  Make an appointment to visit the camp and look around to see how accessible it is. Offer to help improve accessibility through fund-raising or organizing a work crew.  Ask how the camp accommodates campers with disabilities, and how local churches and conferences can partner with camps so that every child and youth can find a place to participate.  Pray for the camp's ministry, and consider serving as a staff volunteer!


Camps are an important extension of local church ministry, and the perfect place to help all of us learn to live as part of an inclusive, Christ-centered community. 

United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries