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Scouts With Special Needs

Scouts with Special Needs


Since its founding in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has had fully participating members with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. Dr. James E. west, the first Chief Scout Executive, was disabled. While most of the BSA’s efforts have been directed at keeping these boys in the mainstream of Scouting, it has also recognized the special needs of those with severe disabilities.

The Boy Scout Handbook has had Braille editions for many years; merit badge pamphlets have been recorded on cassette tapes for blind Scouts; and close-caption training videos have been produced. In 1965, registration of over-age Scouts who are mentally retarded became possible – a privilege now extended to many people with disabilities.

Today, more than one hundred thousand Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Explorers with disabilities are registered with the Boy Scouts of America in more than four thousand units chartered to community organizations.

The Jockey Hollow District was created to work with special needs scouts. Read more about the Jockey Hollow District below.

Recognition of Needs

The basic premise of Scouting for youth with disabilities is that they want most to participate like other youth – and Scouting gives them that opportunity. Thus, much of the program for Scouts with disabilities is directed at
(1) helping unit leaders develop an awareness of disabled people among youth without disabilities, and
(2) encouraging the inclusion of Scouts with disabilities in the regular Cub Scout pack, Boy Scout troop, Varsity Scout team, or Explorer post or ship.

There are many units, however, composed of members with identical disabilities – an all blind Boy Scout troop, an all deaf Cub Scout pack, etc. – but these disabled members are encouraged to participate in Scouting activities at the district, council, area, regional, and national levels along with other Scouts who have no disabilities. Many of these special Scouting units are located in special schools or centers that make the Scouting program part of their curriculum.

More than one hundred of the approximately three hundred thirty BSA local councils have established their own advisory committees for Scouts with disabilities. These committees develop and coordinate an effective Scouting program for youth with disabilities, utilizing all available community resources. Local councils also are encouraged to provide accessibility in their camps by removing physical barriers so that Scouts with disabilities can participate in summer and resident camp experiences. Some local councils also have professional staff members responsible for the program for members with disabilities.


Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Explorers with disabilities participate in the same program as do their peers.

While the BSA’s policy has always been to treat members with disabilities as much like other members as possible, it has been traditional to make some accommodations in advancement requirements if necessary. A Scout with a permanent physical or mental disability may select an alternate merit badge in lieu of a required merit badge, if his disabling condition prohibits the Scout from completing the necessary requirements of a particular required merit badge. This substitute should provide a “similar learning experience.” Full guidelines and explanations are available through the BSA local council and on the Application for Alternate Eagle Scout Rank Merit Badges, No. 58-730. The local council advancement committee must approve the application. A Scout may also request changes in the Tenderfoot and First Class ranks. The procedures are described in the 1995-97 Boy Scout Requirements, No. 33215.

This policy is designed to keep Scouts with disabilities as much in the mainstream as possible. Practical suggestions are made to leaders as to approaches and methods that can be used. Thus, a Scout in a wheelchair can meet the requirements for hiking by making a trip to places of interest in his community. Giving more time and permitting the use of special aids are other ways leaders can help Scouts with disabilities in their efforts to advance; the leader plays a crucial role in that effort.

Growth Plan

The BSA has achieved a position of leadership in serving young people with disabilities with representatives of leading national organizations, both government and private.

Since 1910, the BSA has formed cooperative relationships with many agencies, school districts, and other organizations in serving disabled people, and it constantly seeks to create new relationships. Many of these organizations have played a part in the development of literature, audiovisuals aids, and media in Braille for Scouts with disabilities and their leaders.

Each year, the BSA awards the national Woods Services Award to a leader in Scouting for disabled youth (given by the Woods Services in Langhorne, Pennsylvania). The Woods Services Award is the highest recognition awarded by the BSA in this area of service. The award is presented to that individual who has demonstrated exceptional service and leadership in the field of Scouting for disabled people. The Torch of Gold Award is available for similar presentation by local councils.

Other national support projects include materials relating to disabled people in the National Camping School syllabi; production of special manuals on Scouting for youth with emotional disabilities, learning disabilities, hearing impairment, visual impairment, and mental retardation.

Significant Dates

Since 1910, boys with disabilities have participated fully in Scouting. Significant dates in Scouting’s program for disabled youth include the following:

1923. A special award is created for Scouts with disabilities who are unable to meet certain requirements.

1962. Boys’ Life begins printing in Braille.

1965. Mentally retarded individuals age 18 and over are permitted to register in Scouting.

1971. A grant from Disabled American Veterans enables the BSA national office to establish a professional position of director, Scouting for the Handicapped.

1971. The Scouting for the Physically Handicapped pamphlet (revised in 1994) is published.

1972. An improved scouting program goes into effect with more flexible advancement requirements.

1973. Scouting for the Hearing Impaired (revised in 1990) is published.

1974. Scouting for the Blind and Visually Impaired (revised in 1990) is published.

1975. Understanding Scouts with Handicaps; Understanding Cub Scouts with Handicaps, and Exploring for the Handicapped training manuals are published.

1977. The Signing for the Deaf interpreter strip is approved.

1978. The National Executive Committee approves the removal of age restrictions on advancement for all severely disabled members.

1979. The National Executive Board approves the substitution of merit badges for the Eagle Scout rank by disabled Scouts.

1980. Scouting for the Handicapped (revised in 1984), a resource manual, is published.

1986. In-School Scouting Training Course for special education teachers is published.

1987. Scouting for the Learning Disabled manual is published.

1991. Scouting for Youth with Mental Retardation manual is published.

1992. Camp Director’s Primer to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 manual is distributed to local councils.

1993. Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and Exploring divisions each establish a national sub-committee on Scouts with disabilities.

1994. Explorers with Disabilities Program Helps, designed to involve all posts with Explorers with disabilities, is released.

1995. Scoutmaster’s Guide to Working with Scouts with Disabilities is published.

Recent Developments

In August 1977, the first handicap awareness trail was incorporated into the program of the national Scout jamboree at Moraine State Park in Pennsylvania. More than five thousand Scouts participated. Since then, many local councils have created their own awareness trails, designed to make nondisabled people aware of the many problems faced by people with disabilities. National Scout jamborees in 1981, 1985, 1989, 1993, and 1997 continued this tradition.

In recent years, local councils have been holding handicamporees and jamborettes that feature camping and outdoor activities for Scouts with disabilities and have pioneered their own awareness trails.
An interpreter strip for Signing for the Deaf can be earned by all Scouts.

Requirements for a Disabilities Awareness merit badge and the merit badge pamphlet were published in 1981 and revised in 1993. The net result and purpose of this Disabilities Awareness merit badge is to have many thousands of America’s youth develop a positive attitude toward individuals with disabilities, will create an excellent foundation for acceptance, mainstreaming, and normalization of those who are disabled, throughout their school years and into adult life.

The learning experiences provided by working toward the Disabilities Awareness merit badge should produce changes in the attitudes of America’s youth as these boys pursue new and interesting experiences. They will pyramid the benefits of their experiences as they share their new knowledge with friend.
In 1995, alternate requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class ranks were established. These requirements can be found in the Scoutmaster’s Guide to Working with Scouts with Disabilities.

More Information

Conatct Grant Van Eck at 973-765-9322 x250 or [email protected]

Jockey Hollow District


The purpose of the Jockey Hollow District is to work through chartered organizations and community groups to organize and support successful scouting units whose members have emotional, physical, mental or social challenges or whose members focus on supporting this community.


Presently, approximately 490 special young people are involved in Scouting in Jockey Hollow District through 19 Scouting units.

Geographic Boundaries

Jockey Hollow District serves youth in Morris, Somerset, Sussex, Union and a portion of Middlesex Counties.


The Jockey Hollow District annually conducts a variety of activities to support quality Scouting. In school programs, training courses for adult and youth leaders, Fish-o-ree, and a fall event, the Scoutoree, are held annually.

If you are interested in learning more about the Jockey Hollow District and how you can help, please contact Grant Van Eck, Jockey Hollow District Staff Advisor at 973-765-9322 ext.250 and [email protected]