Summer Camp Teaches Teens With Disabilities to Advocate for Themselves


July 18, 2018

Photo by Heidi Wells
Jessica Cox and a PROMISE youth participant do the “foot five,” which Cox said was her version of a handshake.

Summer camp is the first time many of the Arkansas PROMISE project youth participants with disabilities have been away from home and their families and their first exposure to a college campus. The camp’s focus is not only to teach the teens to advocate for themselves, but also to think about college and careers — and to have fun.

Last month, more than 160 students from 25 counties in Arkansas attended the weeklong camp at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. It was the third year for the camp and the second year at UAFS, which is a part of the University of Arkansas system.

Brent Thomas Williams, principal investigator of PROMISE, described summer camp as a time for youth in the PROMSE project to take ownership of a place of higher education.

“Most of our PROMISE youth wouldn’t consider a university setting as an environment where they would be welcome, a place where they would fit in,” Williams said. “One of the primary goals of summer camp is for our youth to feel that they have a place in and right to higher education and that they get to decide the educational setting that best serves their aspirations and abilities.”

The Arkansas PROMISE project is funded by a five-year research grant of $35.7 million to the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions and the Arkansas Department of Education. PROMISE provides a group of 1,000 teens who receive Supplemental Security Income two paid summer work experiences as well as additional training and intensive support services. Each work experience is about 200 hours. A second group of 1,000 teens receives only the usual services provided to youth with disabilities.

Researchers will compare post-secondary and employment outcomes of the two …

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