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Disability Camps: Children, Teens and Adults with Disabilities

  • Revised/Updated : 2018-08-13
  • Synopsis : Information and reviews of disability camps and summer groups for adults teens and children with disabilities and physical and intellectual impairments.

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Everyone, including children and adults who have physical disabilities, need a vacation away from home. Today you will find a large number of disability groups, clubs, and recreational camps for people with a wide range of disabilities, including summer camps for visually impaired students, teens, and children.

What are Disability Camps?

Camps for children and adults with disabilities can be defined under the respite services category as they provide planned short term, time-limited breaks for families and other unpaid carers of children, young people and adults with a disability with the intention that families/carers resume care at the end of the respite period. They are services that assume the caring role during the period of respite. In the U.S. public accommodation means a facility operated by a private entity whose operations affect commerce and fall within at least one of the enumerated categories under the law. Day camps and overnight camps fall under two categories of public accommodation as defined by the A.D.A.; subsections 9 and 12.

The ideology of inclusion has resulted in increased opportunities for youth with disabilities to attend typical summer camps, while segregated recreational camp programs for otherwise healthy youth with disabilities have become fewer in number (Bullock, Mahon, & Welch, 1992). Programs that have provided exemplary summer camp services solely for youth and adults with disabilities for over 25 years are moving toward models of inclusion, resulting in the closure of segregated camps.

Summer camp programs for youth with disabilities in North America represent three broad categories.

  • (a) Inclusive in nature, bringing together youth with and without disabilities to enjoy recreational experiences (Bedini, 1990);
  • (b) Segregated in nature, providing recreational programs specifically designed for campers with disabilities within barrier free environments (Thurber & Malinowski, 1999);
  • (c) Designed to provide the medical and social supports necessary for campers who might otherwise be excluded from recreational camp settings (e.g., campers with kidney disease, cancer, sickle cell disease, asthma; Klee, Greenleaf, & Watkins, 1997; Martiniuk, 2003; Powars & Brown, 1990; Punnett & Thurber, 1993).

Disability Camps provide barrier free outdoor experiences that promote personal growth and foster independence for children and adults with disabilities. Campers are encouraged to try new experiences in order to gain self-confidence, learn cooperation and communication, and increase personal independence in a safe and fun environment, providing a real summer camp experience for people with special needs.

Separated from their parents, many for the first time, campers of all ages begin to take on challenges that build their self-confidence and sense of independence. Campers get to participate in swimming, nature studies and arts and crafts, canoeing, fishing, evening socials and sports and games. Many camps offer horse riding program for children and adults with disabilities through quality therapeutic riding programs. While other camps provide activities for children who are visually impaired and blind. Some summer camps also cater for kids with complex neurological disorders who need highly specialized support to be successful at camp.

There are many good reasons to send your child to camp, but the short answer is that it will be good for both of you. Your child will be in a place where they will receive care from skilled and experienced counselors, giving your child a chance to discover their independence, build their self-confidence and establish new friendships with peers.

Campground staff have an understanding of youth with disabilities and special needs including the unique potential of each child and special attention is paid to peer relations, building self-confidence and learning new life skills. An emphasis is placed on building self-esteem and how to make and keep friends. Whether building a campfire, cleaning the cabin or learning how to handle a canoe, each camper learns to share the responsibility of camp life.

Families enjoy peace of mind that their family member with a disability is having a good time with trained dedicated volunteers who are ready to help participants to try the activities of their choice. If a participant requires help with personal care, their carers can often attend certain camps at a reduced rate.

Camp Barnabas - Photo Credit: Lighthouse for the Blind-Saint LouisAbout This Image: Camp Barnabas - Camp Barnabas entrance gate - Photo Credit: Lighthouse for the Blind-Saint Louis

Easter Seals Camps

Easter Seals challenges and encourages those living with disabilities to get active and get involved. Their specialized, fully-accessible sport, recreation and active living programs encourage active participation and enhanced well-being. Their programs include activities such as:

  • Boccia
  • Swimming
  • Sledge hockey
  • Rock climbing
  • I Can Bike camps
  • Wheelchair basketball
  • Music and dramatic arts
  • Sailing, canoeing and kayaking

Fully-accessible Easter Seals Camps:

At camp, every child-no matter their disability-receives the encouragement and support they need to challenge themselves, build confidence and make the most of their abilities.

Camp is a special place where kids can just be themselves and focus on their abilities... not their disabilities. Camp is a place where everything is accessible and there are no boundaries, no barriers, no limits to what they can achieve. Camp provides a sense of freedom and independence in an environment where anything is possible and there is no such thing as disability. Camp is a place of "yes I can!"

Listed below we have provided several resources and information on disability camps and adventure holidays offering people with all types of disabilities fun and challenging opportunities. Winter camps and activities are also available with adaptive snow sports offering a variety of new innovative ways kids with a disability can enjoy the snow, ice, and year around camping activities.


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