Camping is proven to have an impact on reducing stress and contributes to positive emotional and physical health (depending on how many marshmallows you’re eating, of course!). Many young people with disability report feeling uncertainty and loneliness as they progress through life to adulthood, with social participation a key issue in the Youth Disability Advocacy Network’s (YDAN) advocacy agenda.
This is why social inclusion activities are so important!
The Deaf Strengths camp will be in its fourth year in 2019, with many young people calling for the camp to be extended. The camp is a three-day event for Deaf and hard of hearing students focusing on students new to or commencing high school in the oncoming year. The camp brings together students with a hearing loss to help them feel less alone in this period of change in their lives.
Some young people may never actually meet another Deaf, Deaf-blind or hard of hearing person in their schooling career
The idea to hold a camp aimed at this demographic came from the lived experience of young Deaf people, who all stated that their transition from primary school to high school was both stressful and isolating. As Deaf, Deaf-Blind and hard of hearing students are now often sent through mainstream schools, some young people may never actually meet another Deaf, Deaf-blind or hard of hearing person in their schooling career. The camp provides a space for students transitioning across to high school to connect with others, hear the experiences of Deaf adults about school and life after school, and to trade strategies on how to manage a hearing loss.
Funded by Lotterywest, the camp initially included young people from the Youth Advisory Council as mentors and staff from the School for Special Education Needs: Sensory as facilitators. In recent years, the West Australian Foundation for Deaf Children have facilitated the camp. The Deaf Strengths camp brings together the community and creates a strong sense of support and inclusion. Many original attendees return to volunteer and mentor, and many young people form ongoing friendships maintained through social media. In 2018, funding allowed rural students to come to Perth and join the camp, seven from the Great Southern and Wheatbelt attended.
Camp provided a place for self-discovery, developing new skills but actually building self-esteem
With reduced barriers and the desire of campers to connect with nature and each other, and form a strong community, it is no surprise that the Deaf Strengths camp is becoming more popular. I was a student mentor in 2014 and returned in 2018 to volunteer to see how much it had grown and what an even greater experience the camp had become. What I enjoyed most was that the camp provided a place for self-discovery, developing new skills but actually building self-esteem – failing and learning outside of the school with supportive peers.
I would encourage all organisations to actively pursue endeavours like the Deaf Strengths camp to increase social inclusion for young people with disability, as it can have a lasting impact on our lives.