I have many fond memories of attending summer day camps with low vision, even before I understood how my visual impairment affected me. In these camps, my camp counselors and counselors-in-training/volunteers often went above and beyond to make sure that I was included in camp activities or worked with me to make activities more accessible. This inspired me to volunteer for the local parks and recreation department’s summer camps so that I could create an inclusive experience for campers with disabilities, just like the camp counselors had done for me. Here are my tips for attending summer day camps with low vision, from the perspective of a camper and camp volunteer with low vision.
Bring a water bottle that is easy to open and easy to close securely
When I was attending a weeklong nature camp, I brought an aluminum water bottle on the first day. I had chosen to bring the bottle because I noticed it was easy to open and drink out of, and it fit in the side of my backpack. What I didn’t notice however was that the water bottle was difficult to close securely and often opened at random, which I found out when I threw my backpack over my shoulder and the water bottle opened, dumping water all over my feet!
If I was leaving for summer camp tomorrow, I would pack the leakproof BPA-free plastic water bottle I have now that has a silicon straw built-in. It’s easy for me to tell if the water bottle has been properly secured, as the straw folds into the lid when not in use. Plus, it’s a lot lighter to carry in a backpack than aluminum water bottles.
Another tip for making sure water bottles with screw-top lips are completely closed is to draw a bold line on the front part of the bottle. That way, users can make sure the line on the lid shows up in alignment with the line on the bottle.
Bring easy-to-identify backpacks/lunch containers
It’s never fun to accidentally take someone else’s backpack or lunch container, so try to bring an easy-to-identify backpack and lunch container that has a distinctive label, and that also is easy to locate- choose colors that do not blend into the floor, table, or other surfaces. I have an entire post about choosing a backpack with low vision linked below
Practice applying sunscreen evenly and wear protective clothing
Kids with low vision may struggle with putting on sunscreen easily as it can be difficult to see where sunscreen has been applied, or to use spray bottles. This does not mean that they are incapable of putting on sunscreen, though it helps to practice before the beginning of camp so that they can re-apply throughout the day on their own or with minimal assistance.
Another option is to wear protective clothing so that sunscreen doesn’t have to be applied over such a broad area. For example, I wear clothing that covers my shoulders and back so that I don’t have to apply sunscreen in those hard-to-cover areas.
Ask to sit close to the front for demonstrations/activities
When I attended summer day camps at the local nature center, I would request to sit near the front of the classroom during presentations or activities, especially live animal demonstrations. Since I already would sit in the front of the classroom at school, it made sense that I would sit in the front for summer day camp activities as well. I also would try to stay in the front of lines and groups when traveling so that I was close to staff members and didn’t get lost, though I did not feel comfortable being line leader.
- Common Classroom Accommodations For Low Vision
- How To Come Up With Sample Accommodations
- Choosing a Seat in Class
Familiarize yourself with the main camp area
While campers will not typically go places without being accompanied by a staff member or volunteer, it still helps to be familiar with the main camp area. Important items to take note of include:
- Door(s) and where they lead to, i.e supply closet, hallway, etc
- Backpack/lunchbox storage
- Storage for completed projects
- Toy box
- Floor mat
- Items attached to the wall that could be bumped into, such as dance barres or shelves
- Elementary School Classrooms And Low Vision: Designing Accessible Classrooms Series
- Ten Questions To Ask For Hotel Room Familiarization
Use a human guide when navigating between areas
While I did not specifically ask someone to be my human guide, I would hold onto a friend’s arm when we walked on a trail, follow my brother as we walked to an activity, or ask a volunteer clarifying questions about something the camp counselor was demonstrating. I have an entire post dedicated to helping people learn how to be a human guide, but the core concepts are fairly simple:
- Announce potential obstacles such as a curb, open body of water, low hanging branches, or a pothole
- Use terms such as turn left/right, straight ahead, or clock faces (i.e 3 o’clock) instead of terms like right here, over there, etc
- Do not grab onto a person with vision loss without their consent unless they are in immediate danger (i.e falling into a pool)
- Allow a person to hold onto an arm over a hand, as it is easier to grip
- How Do People With Visual Impairments Use Human Guides?
- How To Approach Someone with Low Vision Without Scaring Them
- How Do People With Visual Impairments Guide Each Other?
Take your time when reading instructions or completing activities
I recognize that it takes me longer to complete certain activities like reading instructions, measuring items, or painting on paper due to my low vision, as I have to focus on utilizing my usable vision as well as completing an activity, while other campers just have to focus on completing an activity. While getting extended time isn’t always an option like it is in the classroom, campers shouldn’t feel guilty for completing part of an activity or taking longer to finish, as long as they still get enjoyment from completing the activity!
Store assistive technology in an easy-to-access area
Examples of assistive technology at summer camp
Some examples of assistive technology that a student might bring to summer camp include:
- Magnifying glass on a lanyard
- Wearable assistive technology tool that alerts to obstacles, i.e a clip or bracelet
- Cell phone for magnifying or reading text
- Stickers for labeling items that have/do not have a specific allergen
While I didn’t use a blindness cane at the time I attended summer camp, I helped set up a blindness cane storage area for a student attending summer day camps with low vision at my college by putting a piece of PVC pipe on the leg of the sign-in table near the front of the classroom. This way, the cane would not tip over and could easily be grabbed by the student before heading out the door to another activity, since they didn’t need the cane while they were in the classroom. Another benefit is that the table was within the line of sight for camp counselors and volunteers so that they could keep other students from touching the cane.
- Magnifying Glasses For Low Vision
- Twelve Blindness Cane Storage Solutions
- Seven Places I Don’t Take My Blindness Cane
Ask a volunteer/staff member before modifying activities
While it’s great for campers to advocate for themselves and figure out how to adapt/modify camp activities for their own disabilities, I highly recommend talking to a volunteer or staff member before modifying anything, as some modifications may be unknowingly unsafe or dangerous.
Some examples of activity modifications for campers with low vision include:
- Using different art materials for a project
- Finding alternatives for sport activities that involve flying objects
- Going to a different area of the pool
- Modifying exercises in a fitness setting
- Walking on a different trail area with a volunteer
- Avoiding activities that involve strobe or flashing lights
Additional tips for attending summer day camp with low vision
- After registering for the camp, contact the instructors about getting accessible materials such as large print
- Make sure your glasses are secured at all times, either on your head or in a waterproof bag
- Sign up for a camp with a friend or sibling to have a built-in human guide
- Don’t be afraid to try new activities! Even though I had trouble seeing the target, I had a lot of fun trying archery at 4H camp