When Your World is Fully Accessible
By Kelley Coleman - Camper Parent


Kelley Coleman’s book Everything No One Tells You About Parenting a Disabled Child: Your Guide to the Systems, Services, and Supports will be published in March 2024 by Hachette Go. www.kelleycoleman.com

How was our first trip to The Painted Turtle camp? Well, a little terrifying. Let me explain …

Friends had told us about The Painted Turtle. An opportunity for both of our boys to have a real camp experience together? Fully accessible everything? Amazing.

And it was. But, not just in the ways we had expected. Our boys are the best of friends and are always up for new adventures together. Our older son Sean is a fearless daredevil. Our younger son Aaron is his trusty sidekick in all things. Aaron also has multiple disabilities, including an undiagnosed genetic syndrome, epilepsy, Autism, cortical vision impairment, and global delays. While he’s excited to join our adventures, many things are not fully accessible to him, and we’re constantly brainstorming ways to adapt his world to work better for him. 

Arriving at camp, we quickly realized that this was his world – a world that was already adapted for everyone to be fully included. We thought the counselors were joking when they said “Aaron should try the crossbow!” That sounded like a terrible idea. Until we found ourselves at the fully accessible archery range, and Aaron popped a balloon with his first arrow. Not only was Aaron excited, but the look on Sean’s face said it all: he and his brother were fully participating together. Not with the usual helicoptering adults powering Aaron through everything. Here, they could launch arrows, make wooden sculptures, and just be kids at camp together. The staff was always there to lend a hand so that mom and dad could step back, relax, and see these two goofballs loving their time together. Not only did they find fun, but they found a level of independence that’s hard to get anywhere else.

When your world is adapted for you, you realize that your disability isn’t the problem. It’s the lack of access. Camp felt like a place where feeding tubes or sensory breaks are no big deal. They’re just part of life. Want to sit on the stage during the counselors’ dance performance? Cool, come on up. The world has a lot to learn from this place.

And, I found out that I had a lot to learn about allowing Aaron that independence that he’s ready to explore. Mostly, I found that out while we were up on that ropes course. Yes, it is as high as it looks. And, it’s fully wheelchair accessible. While Aaron was able to walk through, he did need assistance. We worked together to power him through. I was terrified. Those wooden platforms are wobbly. The course may be accessible, but it’s not for the weak. The least terrifying part? Looking into Aaron’s face while we stepped onto that wobbly platform. He was very serious. He was a little skeptical. But he wasn’t afraid. He took his time. He figured it out. And he never looked scared. Seeing that showed us that maybe we don’t need to be scared for him.

We’re looking forward to another Family Weekend at The Painted Turtle. We’re looking forward to our boys having another weekend to goof around there together. And, more than anything, we’re looking forward to Aaron’s entire world being this inclusive. It feels good to feel like you belong. And, that’s how every single camper and family feels at camp.