Program Profile

Impact Feature Issue on Social Inclusion Through Recreation for Persons with Disabilities

Building Recreation Skills to Support Inclusion:
Camp Abilities


Lauren J. Lieberman is Director of Camp Abilities, and also Associate Professor in Adapted Physical Education, State University of New York, Brockport

Janet MacVicar is Assistant Director with Camp Abilities, and a Vision Teacher with Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

Children who are blind, deaf-blind, and have multiple physical impairments have great difficulty in being physically active due to a lack of programs in their communities. Children with visual impairments often face isolation and lack socialization opportunities compared to their sighted peers (Robinson, 2002; Kalloniatis & Johnston, 1994). In addition, though children with sensory impairments are increasingly included in physical education classes with their sighted peers, they are often unable to participate because their teachers have not been trained to work with youth with sensory impairments (Lieberman, Houston-Wilson, & Kozub, 2002). In response to the need for improvement in the recreation experiences of these young people, Camp Abilities was established in 1996.

Camp Abilities, a developmental sports camp for youth who are blind and visually impaired, is offered for one week each summer at the State University of New York College at Brockport (approximately 15 miles west of Rochester, New York). Among the goals of Camp Abilities are to increase the self-confidence and skills in physical activities of youth with sensory impairments. The activities offered at Camp Abilities are all completely accessible to youth who are visually impaired, blind, and deaf-blind. The camp provides exposure to and experience in sport and recreational activities that they can readily access successfully in their schools, communities, and neighborhoods.

The activities offered are specific to an individual’s experience in public school and for the future after graduation. Those offered daily – swimming, tandem biking, and track and field – are activities that can be accessed in their schools on sports teams, intramural sports, or on community teams. These are also popular sports offered by the United States Association for Blind Athletes (USABA). The more they know about their ability in these sports the more likely they would be to participate on an after-school team. The activities offered every other day are judo, goalball, beep baseball, and gymnastics. They experience these activities three times during the week, which allows them to learn the sport, see improvement, and know how to play successfully. These are activities offered by the USABA and will be options for recreation or competition in their future. Without this experience, competing in the USABA would not be an option.

Each night we offer different recreational activities in order to expose the participants to a variety of things their same-age peers are doing. These activities are horseback riding, canoeing, archery, kayaking, rollerblading, rock climbing, and basketball. The participants have an opportunity to experience these activities at least once and then can make informed choices about participating when the opportunity arises or when they are looking for recreational activities in their future. Through these experiences, they can then be more likely to become self-determined adults.

In addition to the goal of improving the self-confidence and recreation skills of youth with sensory impairments, the camp seeks to educate undergraduate and graduate students working as counselors in the camp about the skills and abilities of children with visual impairments. They learn unique teaching and feedback strategies to instill success in children with visual impairments. We annually have 80-100 volunteer counselors with a least a 1:1 match of campers to volunteers. Those campers who are deaf-blind and/or have multiple disabilities require two or three counselors a day. The majority of our counselors are undergraduate and graduate students from adapted physical education, teachers of the visually impaired, or special education programs across the country who gain the first-hand experience in working with youth with visual impairments while at the camp. This knowledge will assist them in being better teachers and recreation leaders upon graduation.

The following are some activities offered at camp and how they are made accessible for children with visual impairments:

  • Swimming: Prior to camp each parent fills out a swim skills checklist so each camper is placed in the appropriate grouping. Because we offer a 1:1 ratio between campers and staff, each participant is taught skills to their specific level of ability. The camper’s checklist is used to assess their improvements and show progress throughout the week. Swimming is also assessed in the number of laps swum each day. The specialist for the pool gives the participants 15 minutes at the beginning of each pool session to swim as many laps as possible. These laps are added up and put on a poster to show off the number of laps each participant swam during the week. Orientation and mobility skills are practiced throughout the swim program through daily living skill activities such as locating their locker, changing, showering and walking out to the pool deck.
  • Tandem bicycling: Tandem bicycling is also on the camper’s assessment checklist and is assessed both by the ability to get on the bike and by the number of laps the camper can ride around the track. Very little needs to be adapted for participants to tandem bike because the sport was created so the participant with a visual impairment can ride independently on the back with a sighted guide in front. Verbal cues are used to signal starting, stopping, turning and the number of laps accomplished. The specialists running the activity give verbal encouragement (cheering, clapping, and whistling) for each lap so the participant also knows when they have accomplished each lap. Participants keep track of the number of laps they ride throughout the week and add them up at the end. Many campers ride their bikes miles and miles during the week!
  • Track and field: Track and field can be broken up into two components: the track component and the field component. Track consists of distance running and sprints. Each participant is shown six different ways to be guided by a guide runner if they need one. These guide-running techniques include the use of a tether, guidewire, sighted guide, caller, or circular running. Research has shown that participants may choose different guide running techniques for different distances, genders, and surfaces (Lieberman, Butcher, & Moak, 2001). By teaching the participants about the different ways to use guide runners and guiding techniques we are empowering them to make choices and be independent. Instructional techniques used which have shown to improve a camper’s self-efficacy in a skill (O’Connell, 2000) are description, modeling, tactile modeling, and physical guidance. By using these techniques the participant improves their technique and distance in each skill.

The previous descriptions are only some of the sports offered at Camp Abilities that increase opportunities for social inclusion following camp. The sports, modifications, and assessments are a few of the techniques that make this camp experience so successful. Evaluations completed by the campers and their parents over the past eight years have overwhelmingly indicated that the participating youth leave the camp with increased confidence, self-esteem, independence, and social skills, better preparing them to participate in recreation with peers in their home communities and schools.


  • Kallanoitis, M., & Johnston, A. W. (1994). Visual environmental adaptation problems of partially sighted children. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 88, 234–243.

  • Lieberman, L. J., Butcher, M., & Moak, S. (2001). Preferred guide-running techniques for children who are blind. Palaestra, 17(3), 20–26.

  • Lieberman, L. J., Houston-Wilson, C., & Kozub, F. (2002). Perceived barriers to including students with visual impairments and blindness into physical education. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 19, 364–377.

  • O’Connell, M. E. (2000). The effects of physical guidance and brailling on self-efficacy of children who are blind. Unpublished master’s thesis, SUNY Brockport, Brockport, NY.

  • Robinson, B. (2002). Effects of visual impairment, gender and age on self-determination of children who are blind. Unpublished masters thesis, SUNY Brockport, Brockport, NY.