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International Day of Persons with Disabilities

We here at the Duke of Ed understand that the Award can seem awfully intimidating at first glance. We get it. It’s a lot of work. It wouldn’t feel like such an accomplishment when finished if it wasn’t.

We also know that many potential participants may feel put off by elements of the Award – especially the Adventurous Journey. For some people, even one night away from the comfort of their own home and schedule can seem like an arduous task. This may be especially true for those of us living with some form of disability.

Not all disabilities are visible either. They can range from physical, to mental to emotional.

According to the United Nations, approximately 15% of the world’s population live with some form of disability. That is more than one billion people – or one in seven people!

Unfortunately, students with disabilities continue to remain under-represented, despite evidence that shows when barriers to their inclusion are removed, and accessibility prioritized the entire community benefits.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities serves as a reminder to everybody the necessity and importance of empowering persons with disabilities to participate fully in societal life.

Further still, while many people may view a person’s disabilities as a barrier, from their perspective it is not a barrier at all – it is simply another challenge.

And what is the Duke of Ed if not a challenge?

Bev Bast of Peacekeeper Park certainly holds this view. Bast’s sons were bullied and harassed throughout their time in school because of their cerebral palsy, so 14 yrs ago, she took formative action and started a camp for kids unable to attend traditional camps. Peacekeeper Park enables both able bodied and disabled youth to work together as a team to complete their Duke of Ed Adventurous Journey.

While the biggest key to participant success, she says, is communicating with parents so they can ensure what their kids are doing meet the requirements of the Award, she stresses that it is most important to focus on a person’s abilities, rather than their disabilities.

For example, a participant in a wheelchair may not be able to set a tent up alone, however, Bast witnessed one young man crawl on his belly as he nailed down each peg, enabling his team mates to pitch the tent.

It’s about making modifications, she says, so that the focus is on the team – rather than the individual- and what they can do together to make the Journey a success.

Often times, she says they will choose canoe expeditions, where a few extra participants can sit in the canoe and share paddling responsibilities. As well, wheelchair accessible hiking trails are prioritized. In one case, a participant who was pushed by his teammates through the trails allowed them to rest once back at camp while he prepared the meals. Again, Bast stresses that it is about utilizing each member’s strengths to flourish as a unit.

Mixing special needs participants with cadets in equal part has proven to be incredibly beneficial and rewarding for all members involved. Those with special needs are valued for the abilities they bring to the table, while the councillors helping out, says Bast, “gain a better perspective on life’s barriers.”

Journey by journey, the stereotypes and discrimination perpetuated by the exclusion of persons with disabilities are eliminated through changes in perspective.

The Duke of Ed is an Award programme that strengthens the spirit of International Persons with Disabilities Day as it can be modified to fit everyone persons need, therefore laying the foundation for a future of greater inclusion for persons of all abilities.