Inclusion for persons with disabilities is rapidly occurring in all areas of living - school, work, and recreation. However, until recently, not much was known about inclusionary practices and their effects on participant outcomes in organized camp and outdoor school programs.

To address this need, the National Inclusive Camp Practices (NICP) project spearheaded a nationwide study of resident camps and outdoor schools that operate inclusionary programs. The study focused on identifying inclusionary practices and outcomes for youth with and without disabilities.  The American Camping Association, Institute for Career and Leisure Development, and Portland State University collaborated on this study, which was funded by a research grant under innovation and development from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

Inclusion generally refers to accommodating persons with disabilities in programs serving the general population.  For the NICP study, inclusionary sites refer to mainstream (i.e., traditional) camps and outdoor schools where campers with and without disabilities attend the same session(s) and jointly participate in the majority of program activities. In addition to being inclusionary, sites selected to participate in the study exhibited:

  • director/administrative commitment to inclusionary practices and program 
  • a desire to communicate the benefits of inclusion to the camping and education
  • an interest in participating in research on camper/student outcomes

The NICP study used validated measures to collect quantitative and qualitative data and employed varied methods such as objective assessments, video samples, and individual case studies in a nationwide effort to determine the effects of inclusionary outdoor programs on youth. (See below for more information on the instruments and procedures.)

Inclusionary Programs Benefit Campers with Varying Abilities

The study found that across the country youth with and without disabilities make significant growth in their outdoor skills and personal development (e.g., self-reliance, social interactions, communication, and self-esteem) in resident one-week camp and outdoor school programs. The combined results of most measures revealed that self-reliance, or independence, was a predominant outcome for youth.

The study also found that inclusionary program models benefit all participating youth. In this study, youth with disabilities significantly increased their social interactions with peers and their active participation in the program. This is an indication of successful integration. Youth without disabilities also improved their social interactions and, in many instances, developed a greater understanding and respect for persons different than themselves. Such growth may be a particularly important outcome of participation in a inclusive program for youth without disabilities.

In addition, the study answered a number of important questions facing parents and teachers regarding the importance of their child or student attending inclusionary camp or outdoor school programs. Particularly for parents, the findings help positively answer questions such as:

  • Is a one-week camp and/or outdoor school experience significant?
  • What are the specific benefits of an inclusive resident camp or outdoor
    school experience for my child?
  • In what ways do organized outdoor programs contribute to my child's
    "total life education?"

The NICP findings lend strength to long-standing beliefs and more recent legal mandates affecting diverse groups of citizens: namely, inclusion provides personal and social benefits for all citizens (e.g., disabled and non-disabled) who are afforded opportunities to participate together in major areas of life.

Inclusionary practices used

At the camps and outdoor schools studied, counselors and staff provided frequent support to help youth with disabilities successfully participate in program activities. The kinds of support recognized as important in assisting youth with disabilities to succeed in mainstream or inclusive programs included:

  • giving encouragement/motivational support
  • modeling the activity
  • giving the camper more time
  • arranging for a peer to provide assistance
  • breaking the task into smaller steps
  • providing alternative strategies
  • providing extra practice
  • allowing alternate ways of communication
  • providing campers with special equipment

Across all fourteen camps and outdoor schools, the five highest ranked types of support provided to youth with disabilities were:

  • gave encouragement/motivational support (70.7%)
  • modeled the activity (49.2%)
  • gave subject more time (40.8%)
  • arranged for peer to provide assistance (36.5%)
  • provided subject with physical assistance (34.2%)

Similarly, the most common form of support given to campers without disabilities was gave encouragement/motivational support (49.3%) and modeled the activity (31.1%). However, the degree of support provided was different; youth with disabilities received this kind of support more often. Other common means of providing assistance to youth without disabilities included:  arranging for peer to provide assistance (14.9%), providing alternative strategies (11.3%) and breaking the task into small steps (11.2%).

Camper Growth

The study revealed camper growth in many areas, including outdoor recreation, education, and social interaction, for both campers with and without disabilities.

Outdoor recreation/education
In assessing campers' outdoor skills, counselors reported that campers with disabilities were at least partially independent on the post assessment, while campers without disabilities were fully independent. In general, this was true across most areas of self-help, personal/social skills, and outdoor skills. However, on the outdoor school's science section of the outdoor skills inventory (OSI), campers with disabilities were somewhat lower than their non-disabled peers in knowledge and skills.

Social interaction
Results of video observations showed an increase in the amount of time campers/students spent actively participating in an activity in all ten of the camps/outdoor school programs with complete pre-post observation data. Campers with disabilities significantly increased the amount of time they spent actively participating appropriately in an activity from pre- to post-observation. They also significantly increased the amount of time they spent engaged in appropriate social interaction with peers and with groups of peers/adults between pre- and post-assessment. Non-disabled peers also significantly increased their active participation and appropriate social interaction with groups of peers/adults.

In interviews, counselors indicated on the final section of the OSI that their campers made improvements in the area of appropriate social interactions.  Social interactions with peers increased on average of 62 percent of the campers with disabilities and for 68 percent of the campers without disabilities.

Campers' parents completed an individual characteristics survey following camp to assess their child's socio-emotional characteristics. Parents of campers with disabilities scored their child significantly higher at post-camp in the areas of communication, independence, and self-esteem. Similarly, parents of camper with disabilities scored their child significantly higher in the areas of communication and independence.

Outcomes for case study participants
Interviews with both the counselor and parent of each case study subject were conducted and analyzed. The majority of counselors and parents reported positive growth for their camper/student or child in one or more developmental areas: social interactions, communication with others, responsibilities, self-reliance, self-esteem, participation in recreation, skill achievement, self-help, and respect for others.

Although similarities and differences exist in counselor and parent descriptions of growth for both groups of youth, growth in the area of self-reliance (or independence) was described by counselors and parents of both youth with and without disabilities. To further illustrate the qualitative data results received from the case studies, specific examples of comments provided by counselors and parents are listed below. These descriptions of perceived growth complement the preliminary case study results reported earlier by researchers Brannan and Fullerton in the January/February 1999 issue of Camping Magazine. 

In looking ahead to future research needs, this study particularly focused on describing specific camper and student outcomes and the types of inclusionary practices that facilitate these outcomes. Continued study and analysis is needed to determine the effects of specific inclusionary practices within and across outdoor program activities on the pre-post growth of youth with and without disabilities.

The Study: Instruments and Procedures

The NICP study used validated measures to collect quantitative and qualitative data to determine the effects of inclusionary outdoor programs on youth.

A total of 743 youth (373 subjects were disabled and 370 subjects were non-disabled) from 12 resident camps and 2 resident outdoor schools participated in the study, including 72 youth studied as case study subjects across the 14 sites. A similar number of boys and girls were included in the study, the majority of which were of elementary and middle/junior high school age and had at least one year of prior camp experience.

Youth with disabilities represented a wide range of disabling conditions and levels of functioning, with the majority being mildly impaired: 59 percent with either mild mental retardation, speech impairment, learning disability, or attention deficit disorder; 13.2 percent with autism or emotional disturbance; 11.2 percent with either a physical/orthopedic, health, or brain injury impairment; 9.6 percent with a vision or hearing impairment; and 6.7 percent with moderate to severe mental retardation.

Research instruments
Researchers used four validated instruments to collect quantitative data. Both reliability and validity were addressed in the development of the quantitative instruments. 

  • Inclusive Practices Inventory (IPI): Completed by counselors (post) to
    measure the kind and frequency of support they provided to campers/students in three activity areas - self-help, social and recreation.
  • Outdoor Skills Inventory (OSI): Completed by counselors/instructors (pre-post) to measure the campers/students skill achievement (level of independence) in personal, social and outdoor recreation skills. The OSI for outdoor schools also included a science section.
  • Social Interaction Observation (SIO): Completed by trained graduate students (pre-post) to code the social interactions of campers/students from videotaped observations during program activities.
  • Individual Characteristics Survey (ICS): Completed by parents (pre-post) to measure changes in the positive affect (socio-emotional characteristics) of their child.

Case study interviews (CSI) were used to collect qualitative data. Onsite research assistants interviewed later to determine what changes occurred in personal development for their camper/child.

The study used a descriptive design which summarizes the findings for each assessment for both youth with and without disabilities based on a pre-post or post only analysis. A unique aspect of the project's data collection methods was the use of videotaping to record onsite observations of campers' social interactions. All data was collected for youth with and without disabilities of similar age, sex and cabin assignment. Although youth weren't paired for activities, for each youth with a disability, a non-disabled cabin peer was identified and all data were collected on the pair.

At each camp and outdoor school site, the camp or outdoor school director supervised the NICP Research Assistant (RA) who was assigned as the primary person onsite in charge of the collection, monitoring, and organization of all project data. 

The following data collection procedures were utilized:

  • Before session: Pre-survey parents with the ICS instrument about
    their children's personal and social development. 
  • First day of session: Pre-videotape camper/students during meals and 
    program activities for use with SIO Observation Instrument. Pre-survey
    counselors/staff with the OSI instrument about camper/students' skills.
  • Last day of session: Post-videotape camper/students during meals and 
    program activities for use with the SIO Observation Instrument. Post-
    survey counselors/staff with the OSI instrument about camper/students' 
    skills. Post-survey counselors/staff with the IPI instrument about inclusive
    practices used with campers/students.
  • End/after session: Post-survey parents with ICS instrument about their
    children's personal and social development. Interview counselors and parents 
    of case study subjects with the CSI about growth such youth demonstrated
    by the end of or following the session.

Examples of Perceived Growth

Area of Growth: Self-Help and Responsibility
Camper: Girl, age 12, with moderate mental retardation (Downs Syndrome)

Counselor: Relied less on counselor as the week progressed. [By the end of the week] she brushed her teeth and showered on her own and without direction. Then she went back to cabin, undressed, and got ready for bed on her own. Less manipulation to get out of tasks. Learned to make her bed. Remembered coat, name tag, and independently picked out clothing appropriate for weather.

Parent: She gets up quicker in the morning and wants to get dressed by herself. Really working hard in getting hair done in the morning. Wanting to look good and doing it herself. Accomplishing tasks she sets out to do.

Area of Growth: Respect for Others (Differences)
Camper: Boy, age 12

Counselor: He included two specific campers more in the activities of the cabin group after the group discussion following the Challenge Course. These two campers were considered "different" by the group (in regards to maturity level).

Parent: During a Fun Run at school, he introduced a friend with leukemia to others and shared information about this friend. He seemed to understand about being a newcomer and being "different".

Steve Brannan, Ed.D. is Professor Emeritus, Special Education Department, Portland State University.
Joel Arick, Ph.D. is Professor, Special Education Department, Portland State University.
Ann Fullerton, Ph.D. is Associate Professor, Special Education Department, Portland State University.
Joyce Harris, Ph.D. is a statistical consultant for Harris Educational Consultants in Eugene, Oregon.

Originally published in the 2000 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.