I work for a traditional summer camp facility and we are working on preparing for our site accreditation visit and we have a question about the Disability policy. Up until now, we haven’t had any sort of policy at all. We have prepared a statement, but wanted to see if you knew of anything we needed to be aware of with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Here is the statement we have as of now:
“Riders must be able to mount and dismount from their horse with minimal physical assistance, must be able to control their horse independently with appropriate instruction and supervision (stop, turn, etc.), and must be able to pay attention to and follow instructions given by the stable crew. <Our program> welcomes all those who are interested in riding. This facility is not equipped, nor are there qualified instructors, for those with disabilities. We will gladly make referrals to a riding facility for those with special needs.”
A couple thoughts on your policy: using the mounting criteria is sketchy. If you keep this policy, you must make sure you don't make exceptions for people that are not disabled. For example, if someone comes and they have a bad knee and you let them use a mounting block or make other accommodations (break your own policy) then this could be construed as a statement with the sole purpose of excluding people with disabilities.
Also, you should not say that you exclude people with disabilities. That is discriminatory, especially combined with the statement that you welcome everyone interested in riding. If a person meets your criteria of the abilities required to ride in your program, which you have stated, he/she should be able to ride. Instead, you might want to consider a statement that says something like, "We will take each individual on a case by case basis and if we can safely provide riding services, we will and if not, we will make a referral..."
Below are comments from Dodi Stacey, Chair of our Persons with Disabilities committee. I am sure she will be able to give you some additional food for thought on your disabilities policy.
I would like some more information from you. Like how many horses you have, how many staff your camp hires, and (very important) who owns the camp. For example is the camp privately owned and very small, part of the Girl Scouts, 4-H, YMCA, etc, and large? Also, what type of program you have. Lessons only, trail riding only, combination of both. How you are required to comply with the American with Disabilities Act depends on the answers to these questions. I think that it would be a good idea to make some changes to your "Statement".
Riders must be able to mount and dismount from their horse with minimal physical assistance: You might consider just mount and dismount from a mounting block without assistance other than a spotter, and make all use the block. Also has the benefit of saving horses' backs.
Must be able to control their horse independently with appropriate instruction and supervision (stop, turn, etc.), and must be able to pay attention to and follow instructions given by the stable crew. I would change this to "control their horses independently after being given appropriate instruction (stop, turn, start) before leaving for the trail ride." Supervision should be a given and addressed in your policies and procedures.
Camp XYZ welcomes all those who are interested in riding. This statement needs to be omitted or totally revised. For the simple reason that you do not welcome all interested. This will take you into legal action. You said that you did welcome all, but then did not welcome riders with disabilities.
This facility is not equipped, nor are there qualified instructors, for those with disabilities. We will gladly make referrals to a riding facility for those with special needs. ADA is about what a person with disabilities can do, not what they cannot do. This is difficult not knowing your program. If you have trail rides you need to rate your trails according to the skills riders need to be able to perform to ride the trail safely. If you have a seldom-used camp road, you could conceivably take out riders with disabilities, as the wide trail would provide space for side walkers and horse handler, so riders would not need any skills, only limited by the abilities of the side walkers to handle the rider.
One needs to be very aware of the sensibilities of the person with disabilities. Asking questions about the disability can be an invasion of privacy. However, you can ask questions about the disability that you need to know to keep the rider safe. One also needs to be very careful about terminology when referring to persons with disabilities. Remember the person always comes first, then the fact that they may have a physical/cognitive problem. For instance saying "those with disabilities" could be considered degrading. ADA requires that a facility first make an attempt to accommodate the person with disabilities, before turning them away. What you have to try to offer a person with disabilities is dictated by how much money the facility makes, how many employees they have (ALL employees, not just horse staff), etc. For instance if you are a part of YMCA you may be required to hire people who are trained to give rides to people with disabilities and buy horses that are trained to handle the riders safely.
Dodi L. Stacey
Editor’s Note: Dodi Stacey is co-author for a new book coming out this summer on writing policies and procedures for group riding programs, please see ad in this issue.