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 himself disabled.
Although most of the BSA's efforts have been directed at keeping such 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 closed-caption training videos have been produced. In 1965, registration
of over-age Scouts who are mentally retarded became possible OA privilege now
extended to many people with disabilities.
Today, approximately 100,000 Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venturers with
disabilities are registered with the Boy Scouts of America in more than 4,000
units chartered to community organizations.
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 Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, Varsity Scout teams,
Venturing crews, and Sea Scout ships.
There are many units, however, composed of members with identical
disabilities such as an all-blind Boy Scout troop or an all-deaf Cub Scout
pack but these disabled members are encouraged to participate in Scouting
activities at the district, council, area, regional, and national levels
along with other Scouts. Many of these special Scouting units are located in
special schools or centers that make the Scouting program part of their
Many of the approximately 320 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, using 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 Venturers with disabilities
participate in the same program as do their peers.
The BSA's policy has always been to treat members with disabilities as
much like other members as possible, but 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, Second
Class, and First Class ranks. The procedures are described in Boy Scout
Requirements Y2K, No. 33215C.
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 they can use. 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 unit leader plays a crucial role in that effort.
The BSA has achieved a position of leadership in serving young people with
disabilities with representatives of leading national organizations, both
government and private.
BSA local councils have formed cooperative relationships with agencies,
school districts, and other organizations in serving disabled people. Many of
these organizations have played a part in the development of literature,
audiovisuals aids, and media in Braille for Scouts with disabilities and
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 as well as production of
special manuals on Scouting for youth with emotional disabilities, learning
disabilities, hearing impairment, physical disabilities, visual impairment,
and mental retardation. A weeklong training course for people working with
Scouts with disabilities is offered each summer at the Philmont Training
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 5,000 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. Recent Scout jamborees have continued this tradition. Some
local councils hold handicamporees and jamborettes that feature camping and
outdoor activities for Scouts with disabilities.
An interpreter strip for Signing for the Deaf can be earned by all Scouts.
Requirements and merit badge pamphlet for a Disabilities Awareness merit
badge were published in 1981 and revised in 1993. The purpose of this merit
badge is to help many thousands of America is youth develop a positive
attitude toward individuals with disabilities. This attitude, based on study
and personal involvement of people with disabilities, creates an excellent
foundation for acceptance, mainstreaming, and normalization of those who are
The learning experiences provided by working toward the Disabilities
Awareness merit badge helps produce changes in the attitudes of America is
youth as these boys pursue new experiences then share their new knowledge
Additional information and lists of literature and other aids are
available from the Boy Scout Division, Cub Scout Division, and Council
Services Division at the Boy Scouts of America, 1325 West Walnut Hill Lane,
P.O. Box 152079, Irving, TX 75015-2079.
View all the BSA
Fact Sheets on the BSA National website.