Scouts with Disabilities–How to Stay out of the Headlines

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Boy Scouting has been in the news this week, but not for something good. The father of a Scouting with Down syndrome has sued the BSA for blocking his son from becoming an Eagle Scout. I don’t know the details of the situation, but you can read the BSA’s official response at ScoutingNewsroom.org.

The unfortunate thing about this whole situation is that Scouting has almost since its founding welcomed young people with disabilities. The Kentucky School for the Blind had a Scout troop way back in 1911–they’re shown above on a hike–and just last year three blind triplets in Virginia became Eagle Scouts.

Those three Scouts and many others with both physical and mental disabilities became Eagle Scouts because the BSA has detailed procedures in place for adjusting requirements and/or allowing membership beyond the age of 18. These procedures are outlined in the Guide to Advancement, which I referred to in a Scouting magazine article earlier this year.

Again, I don’t know what happened in the Utah situation that’s been in the news, but I have a hunch as to why things like this happen. Simply put, unfamiliarity breeds confusion. When you don’t do something regularly, whether that’s filling out an income-tax form or helping a Scout with disabilities work toward the Eagle rank, you’re bound to get confused and maybe make mistakes. (Conversely, when you do something regularly–like when you’re a CPA completing dozens of tax returns–the work becomes second nature.)

So the next time you have a Scout who needs special accommodations along the trail to Eagle, take the time to read the resources the BSA has provided, including those mentioned above and those on the BSA website. And if you’re still confused, send an email to disabilities.awareness@scouting.org for help. Lots of people have been down the same road and would be happy to lend a hand.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

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