Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in a FACT Oregon newsletter.
Summer break is almost here, and that means a variety of summer camps and programs. These programs offer children a tremendous opportunity for personal growth outside of the school year. For families with children with disabilities, it is important to understand your child’s right to access these summer programs.
Protections under the ADA
Both government and privately run programs are required to make certain accommodations to allow your child an equal opportunity to enjoy these summer activities.
In general, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires individuals and entities offering facilities, goods, services, and programs to the public to make “reasonable” modifications to its policies, practices, and procedures to give individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to access those programs and services.
A camp or summer program must make reasonable modifications to allow your child to participate in any activity that children not experiencing disabilities participate in.
Depending on the size and resources of the program, it may be required to accommodate children with medical needs (eg. Epilepsy or Diabetes), behavior needs through a behavior support plan or other needs your child presents in that setting.
Your child has the right to participate in the regular activities – even if special programs or activities for children with disabilities exist – unless an exception excuses the program.
The camp or program is prohibited from imposing any extra charge or fee on you beyond the standard enrollment fee because your child requires reasonable accommodations.
Limits on programs’ obligations
There are limitations to a program’s obligations.
Keep in mind that the ADA only requires accommodations that are “reasonable.” An accommodation is not reasonable if it fundamentally alters the activity or imposes an undue burden (generally financial or logistic) on the program.
Just because the program or facility denies a requested accommodation, however, does not mean that it can categorically deny your child access. The program or facility is still required to consider and implement other modifications that are reasonable.
A program or facility can also deny your child access if she or he poses a direct threat to the health or safety of him/herself or others that could not be addressed through a behavior support plan. The facility or program cannot base this determination on generalizations or stereotypes about your child’s disability. Instead, the program or facility must point to the specific activity of concern and articulate how your child poses a danger based on your child’s abilities and challenges.
Research different programs
Before you sign your child up for a camp or program, it is a good idea to do a little research. Try to find out if the program has experience in working with children with disabilities.
You should also be prepared to provide ideas as to the accommodations your child requires. If your child has a 504 plan or IEP, that’s a good place to start. An open dialogue with the program will ensure that it is prepared to give your child the best experience possible when the program begins.
How to file a discrimination complaint
Unfortunately, discrimination does occur.
If you believe a summer program has discriminated against your child on the basis of his or her disability, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.