March is National Disabilities Awareness Month – a time to focus on the many ways in which people with disabilities are an essential part of diverse communities.
As we celebrate the accomplishments of people with disabilities in our community, we must also acknowledge the need for more accessibility and better resources for those individuals – including accessible facilities and specialized care enabling children with special needs to thrive.
Children with significant disabilities often spend much of their time visiting doctors and specialists, undergoing essential therapies, and generally working toward achieving their optimum health and independence. But recreation is vital for kids of all abilities, and finding a place for children with disabilities to play safely and easily can be a challenge.
Over the past decade or more we've seen an increase in things such as sensory-friendly film screenings and construction of accessible playgrounds in our community and throughout the country. As inclusion becomes more of the norm in schools and neighborhoods, community leaders, neighborhood groups, student groups and others are recognizing the need for accessible recreational options for kids with disabilities.
As director of Camp Red Cedar, a 57-acre summer camp and year-round horseback-riding facility for children of all abilities, I've had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the importance of play for kids with disabilities. Because of the accessible facilities and grounds, and the specialized training of staff, campers and riders at Camp Red Cedar (including those with significant disabilities) are able to reap the benefits of play.
These include enhanced fine and gross motor skills, increased strength and muscle development, and improved confidence. They also meet new friends and participate in all activities, regardless of their level of ability.
This year, Camp Red Cedar turns 30. As we celebrate three decades of serving campers of all abilities throughout northeast Indiana and beyond, we're dreaming up ways to serve more children in better ways. A recent $4 million investment in a new 11,500-square-foot activity center, plus the addition of four accessible cabins, will enable Camp Red Cedar to expand programming for campers of all abilities.
Additionally, improved facilities enable us to deepen partnerships within the community, including collaborating with Parkview Hospital to provide rehabilitation services, hosting school field trips, holding family-friendly events throughout the year and more.
As we look to the future, we are grateful for the ways in which we see inclusion becoming the norm in our communities. We are excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for children of all abilities to have equal access to recreational opportunities. Most of all, we are proud to be part of leading this inclusive movement and to offer campers the chance to have a safe and fun summer experience while building treasured memories that last a lifetime.
During March, as we celebrate Disabilities Awareness Month, we urge you to think about ways in which you can help to build a more inclusive and accessible community for those with disabilities. A diverse community is one that benefits everyone.
Carrie Perry is director of Camp Red Cedar.