“That was then, this is now”. It’s a popular saying known by many. Please let me share my personal “then”, and my “now”.
“Then” was 1976, I was 13 years old, had a crush on David Cassidy and my best friend’s name was Julie. I had already been through several surgeries to correct various skeletal considerations and had new crutches that I was getting used to. Regardless of my mom’s firm belief that I was capable of attending any summer camp for children, she met with opposition from the folks at community summer camps who believed it would not be successful to include a child with a disability into their programs.
So, that summer I attended camp in the beautiful Kananaskis Country of Alberta at a camp specifically for children with disabilities. I absolutely loved my camp experience at Camp Horizon and regardless of being a segregated environment it was a wonderful camp environment with fantastic staff and super activities. I happily went back to the same summer camp for several years. My only frustration each year was that my best friend Julie and I were separated – she attended a typical community-based summer camp and I attended a segregated camp with my peer group who also had disabilities. And, it is a very frustrating thing when your own voice and choice is not considered when decisions are being made on your behalf.
I was confused that we boarded different buses just because one of us had a disability and the other did not.
“Now”, in 2016, I am extremely proud to work for Recreation Integration Victoria and the service here that strikes a cord for me for me supports children and teens to attend ANY summer camp that they choose to attend. Children with disabilities now have the one thing that I longed for years ago – the opportunity to head off into the wild blue yonder of camp, side by side with their best friend, or on their own to meet new ones, wherever they choose to go.
Choice is profoundly important as any one of us participates in our leisure pursuits. In every one of the children RIV supports I see myself as that gawky young teen all those years ago and am touched not only by how time flies but the wonderful changes I have witnessed through the years. My own daughter is 14 and for years has attended a variety of summer camps throughout Victoria. Children with disabilities occasionally are enrolled in the same camp and Olivia does not consider them anything other than another child to make friends with.
I encourage you to consider becoming involved with the RIV Equalizers and share my excitement as we fundraise to continue with our inclusive programs for children and youth. Equality = Opportunity. Equality = Acceptance. Equality = Inclusion.