Scouts-L Mail Archive for August of 1999: Disability Awareness (long)
Disability Awareness (long)
Ian N Ford
Mon, 16 Aug 1999 17:57:05 +0100
From: Scouts-L Youth Group List [mailto:Scouts-L@LISTSERV.TCU.EDU]On
Behalf Of Bob Nix
Sent: 16 August 1999 12:28
Subject: Disability Awareness MB
> To the Scouts-L Family:
> Our troop is offering the Disability Awareness merit badge. More
> of our Troop is taking the badge.
This is probably not a badge that is designed for a large group ...
rather it is probably more suited to individual Scouts who are able to
meet the requirements. The fact is that as more kids with disabilities
are integrated into mainstream school and mainstream Scouting there will
be fewer units catering solely for youth with disability - and IMHBCO
that is the way it should be.
Most schools will have students with some level of disability who might
welcome an invitation to join Scouting. Despite the wheelchair symbol
that has stuck in the public mind, " disability " does not equal
mobility impairment. You probably have Scouts in your unit ho have
hidden disabilities, and who might not even consciously associate
themselves with " the disabled " as a concept.
Hopefully every Cub Pack will have members with disabilities, and will
be only too happy to have a Scout as a Den Chief or helper.
My main concern is for the disabled youngster himself ... nothing is
more demoralising than to feel patronised and " used " ... hopefully the
idea will be that there will be a genuine camaraderie between the two
boys, not just your Scouts putting in their fifteen hours then
" been there, done that " and on to the next badge. Hopefully your
counselor will be sensitive to this issue.
If half your troop is really committed to what this badge entails, then
more credit to them ... but it is NOT one of those " sign up and get
another patch " badges like finger printing or basketry. Hopefully the
counselor will have thought through the implications and have some idea
as to how the requirements can be met. My experience is that this is a
badge that a lot of kids start with good intentions, but which only a
few follow through.
I too have problems with the requirements as written. Like much of BSA's
attitude to youth with disabilities I find them patronising and
over-prescriptive. But those are the rules until they can be changed. At
least they are not as superficial and offensive as the previous
requirements for " Handicap Awareness " MB. Apart from anything else, I
would like to see youth with disabilities earn credit for sharing their
experiences with their peers ... it is not a one way street. The people
who write the rules seem to have a problem with their attitudes -
disability is always seen as INability, and disabled Scouts as
individuals who first need to be " labelled " by a clinician or
educational administrator, then put through a humiliating process of
having to go cap in hand to the " powers that be " to ask for special
Maybe the reason there are so few units with Scouts identified as having
disabilities is that they recognise that they are not allowed to
participate in the advancement program of BSA by right, but only on the
basis of special dispensation. Yes, invite a kid to join Scouting. Tell
him that if he can't swim the Troop Committee might " waive " the
requirement - unless you have the SM described on this list who makes
his own rules, in which case - tough. Tell him that technically you are
not allowed to make any accommodation in the merit badges he does, but
that if he can't meet the requirements you can make a special case for
alternatives.Tell him that if he doesn't behave the way the leaders
want, or if he needs additional help and support you will make him bring
a parent as a " minder " to each activity.
To be honest, I don't think that there is any real, practical commitment
to dealing with Scouts with disabilities apart from a small number of
individual leaders who bring skills and knowledge from outside Scouting
. Nowhere in the basic leader training syllabus (SMF or CSLBT) is there
any formal time allocated for discussion of dealing with Scouts with
disabilities. Let's face it.there is very little training or guidance
for leaders in dealing with common problems on camp such as
homesickness, bed-wetting, sleep-walking etc., far less coping with a
Scout with significant disabilities. When I teach SMF I usually take an
extra twenty minutes to do a quick and dirty run down on common problems
such as asthma, allergies, AD/HD and a brief mention of other conditions
that Leaders bring up. That is not in the official syllabus, but it
generally provokes discussion during the break.
Some of the discussion about what Leaders need to know in terms of
medical information, access to medical records etc. make me wonder if
this isn't a misdirected cry for help ... Are concerns which at first
sight seem to be about medicalising and labelling, covering your
posterior and avoiding liability, really a recognition that many
leaders do not have access to the information and training they need ?
Does lack of information and training mean that leaders fantasise about
possible problems rather than saying " here is a boy who wants to be a
Scout ... what resources are there in our Unit, District and Council to
enable us to " deliver the Promise " and empower him to participate
in the programme ? " More to the point ... ARE there resources in your
district and council, and if not, why not ?
Do districts and councils have identified, experienced Scouters and
others who can act as a resource for leaders working with youth with
disabilities ? Often what is required is not another " medical "
assessment but some practical advice about how to deal with Jimmy
Scout's particular " problem " . Practical advice, like how to advise
a patrol grubmaster catering for a diabetic or gluten-intolerant Scout -
and " bring his own food " is NOT an acceptable solution. Practical
advice like telling parents that if Tommy Tenderfoot wets the bed a
feather sleeping bag is not a good idea, get one with a washable
filling. Practical advice like how to modify the uniform so a Scout with
limited movement or dexterity can dress himself independently and still
look part of the group. And how do you rig up a Scout in a wheelchair to
rappel down a climbing wall ? (Do they teach that to COPE directors ?)
Can anyone offer any insight? Have I missed something? Has the
changed? How has anyone else taught this merit badge?
I have covered part of the badge on Merit Badge lock-in, but that has
consisted of talking with Scouts about how to set about meeting the
requirements, and identifying local resources. I also talk about the
sort of issues I have mentioned above, i.e. not " using " other
people, and that if they recruit a disabled Scout it is not a fifteen
hour commitment for him but a five-year commitment for the whole troop.
Ideally the counselor needs to be available to provide on-going support
for the Scouts doing the badge, and for any new members they bring in.
That also means a commitment on the part of the Leaders and troop
committee, because to bring any kid into Scouting on false pretences is
unfair, but for kids who may already have experienced discrimination and
rejection by their peers in
other settings it is downright unethical. That is why I have a problem
with the Disability Awareness MB ...
Yes, guys and girls, this is an issue about which I feel strongly.
Ian N Ford
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