Access To Programs

Since Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)[i], with some exceptions[ii], generally requires integrated access to programs for individuals with disabilities, camps and other outdoor programs have faced several challenges.

You can help a child and his family determine if your camp is the best one for him. © Can Stock Photo Inc./lisafx

Importantly, campers seeking access may or may not have a legally protected disability.

They may nonetheless have a significant health issue, or simply not be ready or willing to handle what the programs have to offer.

This article examines the value in developing Essential Eligibility Criteria (EEC) for camp programs as a practical and ethical way to address this issue.

Defining EEC

EEC includes both the cognitive (thinking, processing) and physical criteria necessary to engage in a particular activity, generally focused on risk-management considerations.

EEC allow applicants to determine whether they can participate in an activity based on their ability to perform the activity’s essential skills.[iii]

EEC should not be discriminatory, should be listed in order, should indicate whether a companion can assist, and should be simple and straightforward.

EEC can include general criteria applicable to all camp activities (e.g., the ability to understand and follow instructions) as well as additional specific criteria applicable to each activity (e.g., the ability to respond to verbal or visual signals when rock-climbing).

Importantly, if developed, EEC should be applied equally to all applicants, regardless of disability. Ultimately, in developing EEC, the camp is striving for a good fit between the camp and its campers.

Legal Background

Title III provides individuals with disabilities, under appropriate circumstances, “integrated” access to programs and facilities. Privately run programs are required to comply with the ADA if, among other things, they “operate a place of public accommodation” that affects commerce.

Title III prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges of any place of public accommodation.”

Qualifying organizations are required to consider reasonable modifications to “policies, practices and procedures” to provide access to those with disabilities. An organization is, however, entitled to limit participation in light of legitimate safety requirements or, in light of any other “legally” legitimate issues (see below).

Under Title III, an organization is permitted to develop EEC for its activities. The organization can make these criteria available on its website or in other materials.

This information can help prospective participants determine whether participation is possible, and at the same time begin an early dialogue with the organization to consider any concerns or appropriate modifications.

Organizations cannot impose eligibility criteria that screen out, or tend to screen out individuals with disabilities, unless those criteria are necessary for the provision of services.

An organization can impose legitimate requirements that are “necessary for safe operation,” which can logically be incorporated into any EEC. However, any safety criteria must be based upon “actual risks” and not on speculation, stereotypes, or assumptions about people with disabilities.

Ultimately, an organization must allow people with disabilities access to programs in the most integrated setting “appropriate to the needs of the individual.” Title III law and regulations provide, however, that separate programs may be appropriate in limited circumstances.

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