With summer camp season just weeks away, federal authorities are reminding operators they need to be sure facilities can accommodate children with disabilities.

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan put hundreds of camps on notice late last month, spelling out their obligations under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Under the ADA, summer camps, both private and those run by municipalities, must make reasonable modification to enable campers with disabilities to participate fully in all camp programs and activities," McQuade wrote in a statement.

McQuade's office sent a flier to camp operators, saying they must evaluate each child individually, and train staff in ADA compliance and how to administer medicine to campers.

In addition, camps cannot require parents to pay for "reasonable modifications necessary for their child to fully participate in all camp activities," the flier states.

In an email to The Detroit News, a Department of Justice paralegal said officials would investigate if any complaints were made.

"The Eastern of District of Michigan has not received any complaints or problems relating to children attending summer camps," DOJ paralegal Susan Plochinski said in the email. "The press release was issued as a preventive measure to avoid any child being excluded from summer camp due to their disability."

The ADA, which became law in 1990, requires public and private organizations to provide accessible accommodations and bars discrimination against people with disabilities.

"Children with disabilities are entitled to attend any camp or activity that nondisabled children attend," the Department of Justice release said.

Michigan camp operators say they take pains to follow the law and make facilities accessible to children with disabilities.

"Camp counselors are encouraging and patient and help facilitate successful camp experiences for children who need reasonable accommodations," said Becky Spencer, vice president of camping at YMCA Storer Camps in Jackson. "Counselors are trained on ADA requirements and also made aware of Special Concerns Form information for campers.

"It is recommended that parents and campers visit camp during an open house if they are not familiar with our program or facilities," she said.

Spencer said the camp always has a health officer on duty who oversees medication administration, and the facility's dining services accommodates special dietary needs.

Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake also said it accommodates children with disabilities and trains its staff.

"Obviously, working to accommodate children with unique needs and disabilities helps to create a more enriching learning experience for all students at camp," said Heidi Stansell, vice president of the camp. "So while it can be a challenge sometimes from a logistical and financial perspective, the outcome is always a win-win for everyone."

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