Scouts With Disabilities and Special Needs
Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has had fully
participating members with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities.
Dr. James E. West, the first Chief Scout Executive, was himself disabled.
Although most of the BSA's efforts have been directed at keeping such
boys in the mainstream of Scouting, it has also recognized the special
needs of those with severe disabilities.
The Boy Scout Handbook has had braille editions for many years;
merit badge pamphlets have been recorded on cassette tapes for blind
Scouts; and closed-caption training videos have been produced. In 1965,
registration of over-age Scouts with mental retardation became possiblea
privilege now extended to many people with disabilities.
Today, approximately 100,000 Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venturers with
disabilities are registered with the Boy Scouts of America in more than
4,000 units chartered to community organizations.
Recognition of Needs
The basic premise of Scouting for youth with disabilities is that they
want most to participate like other youthand Scouting gives them that
opportunity. Thus, much of the program for Scouts with disabilities is directed
at (1) helping unit leaders develop an awareness of disabled people among
youth without disabilities, and (2) encouraging the inclusion of Scouts with
disabilities in Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, Varsity Scout teams,
Venturing crews, and Sea Scout ships.
There are many units, however, composed of members with identical
disabilitiessuch as an all-blind Boy Scout troop or an all-deaf Cub
Scout packbut these disabled members are encouraged to participate
in Scouting activities at the district, council, area, regional, and
national levels along with other Scouts. Many of these special Scouting
units are located in special schools or centers that make the Scouting
program part of their curriculum.
Many of the approximately 315 BSA local councils have established their
own advisory committees for Scouts with disabilities. These committees
develop and coordinate an effective Scouting program for youth with
disabilities, using all available community resources. Local councils
also are encouraged to provide accessibility in their camps by removing
physical barriers so that Scouts with disabilities can participate in
summer and resident camp experiences. Some local councils also have
professional staff members responsible for the program for members
Advancement Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Venturers
with disabilities participate in the same program as do their peers.
The BSA's policy has always been to treat members with disabilities
as much like other members as possible, but it has been traditional to
make some accommodations in advancement requirements if necessary. A
Scout with a permanent physical or mental disability may select an
alternate merit badge in lieu of a required merit badge if his disabling
condition prohibits the Scout from completing the necessary requirements
of a particular required merit badge. This substitute should provide a
"similar learning experience." Full guidelines and explanations are
available through the BSA local council and on the Application for
Alternate Eagle Scout Rank Merit Badges, No. 58-730. The local council
advancement committee must approve the application. A Scout may also
request changes in the Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class ranks.
The procedures are described in Boy Scout Requirements Y2K,
This policy is designed to keep Scouts with disabilities as much in
the mainstream as possible. Practical suggestions are made to leaders
as to approaches and methods they can use. Thus, a Scout in a wheelchair
can meet the requirements for hiking by making a trip to places of
interest in his community. Giving more time and permitting the use of
special aids are other ways leaders can help Scouts with disabilities
in their efforts to advance; the unit leader plays a crucial role in
BSA local councils have formed cooperative relationships with agencies,
school districts, and other organizations in serving disabled people. Many
of these organizations have played a part in the development of literature,
audiovisuals aids, and media in braille for Scouts with disabilities and
Each year, the BSA awards the national Woods Services Award to an adult
in Scouting for serving disabled youth (given by the Woods Services in
Langhorne, Pennsylvania). The Woods Services Award is the highest recognition
awarded by the BSA in this area of service. The award is presented to that
individual who has demonstrated exceptional service and leadership in the
field of Scouting for disabled people. The Torch of Gold Award is available
for similar presentation by local councils.
Other national support projects include materials relating to disabled
people in the National Camping School syllabi as well as production of
special manuals on Scouting for youth with emotional disabilities, learning
disabilities, hearing impairment, physical disabilities, visual impairment,
and mental retardation. A weeklong training course for people working with
Scouts with disabilities is offered each summer at the Philmont Training
In August 1977, the first handicap awareness trail was incorporated into
the program of the national Scout jamboree at Moraine State Park in
Pennsylvania. More than 5,000 Scouts participated. Since then, many local
councils have created their own awareness trails, designed to make nondisabled
people aware of the many problems faced by people with disabilities. Recent
Scout jamborees have continued this tradition. Some local councils hold
handicamporees and jamborettes that feature camping and outdoor activities
for Scouts with disabilities.
An interpreter strip for Signing for the Deaf can be earned by all
Requirements and merit badge pamphlet for a Disabilities Awareness merit
badge were published in 1981 and revised in 1993. The purpose of this merit
badge is to help many thousands of America's youth develop a positive
attitude toward individuals with disabilities. This attitude, based on
study and personal involvement of people with disabilities, creates an
excellent foundation for acceptance, mainstreaming, and normalization of
those who are disabled.
The learning experiences provided by working toward the Disabilities
Awareness merit badge helps produce changes in the attitudes of America's
youth as these boys pursue new experiences then share their new knowledge
In 1995, alternate requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First
Class ranks were established. These requirements can be found in the
"Scoutmaster's Guide to Working with Scouts with Disabilities" (No.
Additional information and lists of literature and other aids are
available from the Boy Scout Division, Cub Scout Division, and Council
Services Division at the Boy Scouts of America, 1325 West Walnut Hill
Lane, P.O. Box 152079, Irving, TX 75015-2079.