Many towns, cities and counties offer camps and summer programs. They are often less expensive than private day camps and sleep-away camps, making them attractive to local families.
Each spring, parents ask Kids With Food Allergies, “Are local summer camps required to accommodate my child with food allergies?”
The answer is yes. These camps must accept children with food allergies and asthma. The camp must make adjustments for full participation. This may mean offering allergen-free meal options if food is included. Perhaps staff must learn how to administer an epinephrine auto-injector. Or, maybe they must learn about asthma.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a public entity may not exclude disabled people. They also must not discriminate against them. Your tax dollars pay for public programs. So a camp run by a city or other government agency is a public entity. Children with food allergies and/or asthma are usually considered “disabled” under the ADA.
However, a camp does not have to do something that would:
- Create an undue burden for the camp
- Fundamentally change the way the camp operates
- Cause harm
The camp has to prove that what the child needs is not workable, after considering all options. The camp must also show that the harm is real and not imagined or based on stereotypes. The camp cannot pass on the cost of the accommodations to the parents. For instance, the camp cannot charge parents an extra fee to have someone available to administer epinephrine.
Does this mean the camp must give emergency medicine, such as epinephrine or a quick-relief asthma inhaler, to a camper? Yes! Camps must be willing and able to administer life-saving medication for children with disabilities. They must have policies for giving the medication. They cannot refuse.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has ruled this way in several camp cases involving different disabilities. A camp cannot claim that it would be too burdensome to train their staff to give the medication. Also, the camp cannot refuse on the grounds that it would be a liability or would cause their insurance premiums to rise.
For example, the DOJ recently settled a case with a camp in Maryland. As part of that agreement, the camp had to train all supervisory staff, including counselors, in emergency procedures for epilepsy. The settlement included giving medication.
While the Maryland case involved a private camp, many of the same rules apply under the ADA. Private camps are usually considered places of “public accommodation” under the ADA.
The DOJ has a helpful webpage that describes your rights at www.ada.gov.
For other resources about summer camp, see: