Issues and Education: Watch Our Campers Learn to Self-Advocate!!

By June Converse.

“I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.” ~ Maya Angelou


I HOPE, I CAN, I WILL: The Self-Advocacy Program

Everyone – literally everyone – agrees that being able to be your own advocate is a critical life skill. Yet many of us have a hard time speaking up and asking for our needs to be met. The good news is that Self-Advocacy, like beep baseball, can be learned and practiced. Just as we can gain confidence on the field or in the classroom, we can also gain confidence using our voices.

Most of the Camp Abilities spend time on self-advocacy skills. And certainly, ALL of the camp directors, specialists, coaches and volunteers know advocacy is important. So, to aid all the camps, in early 2022, Camp Abilities Brockport joined with the Foreseeable Future Foundation to put together a Self-Advocacy Program which can be duplicated in other camps, in classrooms, in the home. 

We want our campers to move from HOPE to CAN to WILL. 

  • I HOPE to play beep baseball.
  • I CAN play beep baseball.
  • I WILL find a way to play beep baseball.


The Self-Advocacy Program: Part 1

The Manual

Our first project was to use Infusing Self-Advocacy into Physical Education and Health Education  written by Ruth Childs, Lauren Lieberman and Mary Connolly to create a Self-Advocacy Manual for campers to use. This manual presents a five-step process, guiding questions with space for journaling, a template for writing a persuasive speech and an appendix of resources. 

The Pilot

We piloted the program at Camp Abilities Brockport in June 2022. We asked 40 campers to identify an issue they would like to advocate for. Each day we worked the five-step process and on the fifth day, many campers practiced an entire speech with their coach or team leader. 

Many campers, of course, wanted to speak to a coach or PE teacher about inclusion. But, to our utter delight, once the kids understood they could advocate for anything, the flood gates opened.

  • Mina wanted a raise in her allowance and was willing to wash the dishes to earn it.
  • Joe wanted to learn to make his own sandwiches.
  • MarJohn wanted to speak to his parents about a camera and photography lessons.
  • Eight-year-old, first-time camper, Landon put his new skills to work by asking his team leader for permission to jump off the diving board. He didn’t just practice his speech – he went for it!1
  • Susan wanted to be able to sit with her friends and not in the front row all the time. 
  • Diana reminded us that sometimes advocating for yourself includes saying “No”. She was going to go home and explain that while she CAN run track and field, she’d rather do something else.2

The Video

Each step of the way, a videographer gathered video of the campers learning and practicing the Self-Advocacy process. The video can be – and will be – used by Camp Abilities all over the world. The video is also being shown at conferences and training programs. 

“What’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.” ~ Eric Weihenmayer, first blind person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest and the first to hike all seven summits of the world.


The Self-Advocacy Program: Part 2

We learned a great deal during our pilot week and are already hard at work refining the program. Our first tasks include:

  • Much like the coaches are trained by the specialists on how to safely coach Stand-Up-Paddle Board, we are creating a training element for the coach’s orientation day.
  • Part of the orientation session will include a Coach’s Condensed Manual. The full manual is geared toward the campers. This condensed version will provide the big picture and the elements we hope each camper will achieve during their time together. 
  • Each sport has a designated time and location during camp. We will be encouraging directors to treat the Self-Advocacy program like the other important activities by designating a time slot and location as part of the camp schedule. To aid the directors and coaches, we are developing a daily lesson plan to guide the coaches in teaching the five-step process, working through the guiding questions and preparing the campers to present their advocacy speeches on the last day of camp. We will be creating this for a 2-day, 3-day and 5-day camp.
  • To make the program fun and understandable, we are putting together short skits the camp directors can use during their morning announcements.

It is our dream to have the manual available for each camper in the format they need, whether that be large print or braille. This way the campers can duplicate the process as needed and can teach the process to others.3


The Self-Advocacy Program: Part 3

Long-term goals include a Self-Advocacy series of webinars for teachers, coaches, camp directors, parents and anyone else who works with our youth so they can create a self-advocacy program or support their students and children in this important skill.

  • Update the manual to include a section on “Saying No: Boundaries”.
  • A certification program for professionals who work with children who are visually impaired.
  • More instructional videos.

As we continue to fine-tune and run more pilots, we will add additional elements to the program and keep you all updated on this exciting, necessary project!


Our campers HOPE and they CAN and they WILL – once we give them the tools and confidence to ask!


Beyond Camp Abilities

Self-Advocacy is not just for children who are visually impaired. We ALL need this skill – especially our youth. It is our dream that this program be used by anyone wanting to learn or teach self-advocacy. 


1 Landon was not allowed to jump off the diving board – YET. But he and his team leader strategized together so he’ll be ready to jump next year! 

2 Saying “no” will become a part of the self-advocacy manual. Just as we can teach our kids how to ask for support, we should also teach our kids that it’s totally fine to have boundaries and to maintain those boundaries. Saying “no” is another critical life skill.

3 Funding for these programs is always a challenge. If you know of an individual or organization who might be willing to offer support, they may donate with a charge card, at Or mail a check to Research Foundation/Camp Abilities, 350 New Campus Drive, B343 Tuttle North, Brockport, NY 14420.

~Submitted by June Converse


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