Summer Programming

For deaf youth, summer camps bring opportunities to build relationships and strengthen skills for future endeavors. Whether they are day camps focused on coding, virtual programs in the arts, or overnight outdoor adventures, research shows that summer programs can have a significant positive impact on the lives of deaf youth. Summer programs also contribute to a wide range of outcomes such as isolation reduction, strengthening of social skills, and opportunities to connect with deaf peers and role models.

“Last summer I attended Youth Leadership Camp. . . At first, I was highly anxious to go, but going changed everything for me in terms of personal growth and confidence”

Summer Camp Resources

Are you looking for activities and resources to use in your summer camp? Take a look at what NDC has to offer!


A choose-your-own-adventure online game created just for deaf teenagers, where they can learn important skills for success in high school and beyond. Players get to make their own choices, stand up for themselves, and build confidence and skills they can use in real life.

Choose Your Future Activity Kit

Help deaf students set goals and continue to build self-determination skills through the summer. The activity kit is designed for high school students ready to start the next stage in their lives, but can work for anyone who is making a big change.

#DeafSuccess Video Playlist

Showcase role models for deaf youth and promote better understanding of the experiences of deaf people. We welcome you to use with campers and/or link to your websites or social media accounts with videos that provide a deeper look at each deaf person’s journey.

Deaf Youth and Summer Programs: The Why and How

For many young adults, summer programs such as camp provide a respite from the humdrum of everyday life, a hiatus from the watchful eye of parents and teachers, and the opportunity to try something new and forge long-lasting friendships. At first glance, camp might appear to be all fun and games, but research has demonstrated that camps can have a positive impact on youth development outcomes related to independence, leadership, self-esteem, problem-solving, and feelings of empowerment. Summer camp can also provide opportunities to develop personal and professional relationships outside of the constraints of the school environment. This document provides a summary of why summer programs are important for all youth and specifically for deaf youth.

Planning Your Camps

Full Video Description:

Russ Goddard shared an important approach that Pennsylvania’s DHH Summer Academy used for program development.

“We had focus groups that pulled about four to five successful young deaf adults. I asked them to look back at their high school experience and think about what they wish they knew then that would have helped them in college.”

Russ GoddardStatewide Coordinator for the Deaf

Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation 

Camp: Pennsylvania’s Summer Academy for High School Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Our curriculum was developed by having focus groups, which consisted of about 4 to 5 successful young deaf adults. We brought them together for a meeting and I asked them all the same question.

Looking back to high school memories, what do you wish you had known then that would have helped you in college? The participants began sharing important key components. Advocacy was huge. Confidence was also critical. Knowledge and understanding on how to get interpreters, how to get CART services, how to get an FM system. Lack of awareness or unfamiliarity with laws about their rights. We then took these responses and started developing a curriculum for the summer program.”

Traci BranchStatewide Transition Specialist for Deaf & Hard of Hearing

Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS)

Camp: Map Your Future

We had conducted in-depth research and had team meetings. From there, we developed the program. We did not develop the program first and bring in the students after. Instead, we brought in the students first and got to know them better afterwards. We tailored the program based on their own interests, their needs, and met them where they are in their progress.”

Choosing Your Camp Activities

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Randall Smith, from Camp Taloali, also helped NAD conference participants see how student input shapes Camp Taloali.

“For years now, our Camp Taloali has set up what we call the challenge course. It brings a variety of deaf students, all with different backgrounds, school types and educational backgrounds together in one place.”

Traci BranchStatewide Transition Specialist for Deaf & Hard of Hearing

Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS)

Camp: Map Your Future

“We need to make sure that camp is fun. We tend to focus on work because the funding we receive has a condition, which is that we must have activities that are related to work experience. We couldn’t provide certain activities such as fly fishing or archery. We added activities that are more of a learning experience. For instance, we cover things that have to do with self-confidence, finances, how to obtain an apartment and so on.”

Randall SmithCamp Administrator

Camp: Camp Taloali

For years now, our Camp Taloali has set up what we call the challenge course. It brings a variety of deaf students, all with different backgrounds, school types and educational backgrounds together in one place. It’s their first activity at camp, and they have a chance to meet each other for the first time, interact with each other and work together on the challenge course. The course requires teamwork, communication development and strategies to work together to overcome obstacles to keep moving forward.

Of course, this experience gives them the opportunity to work together and communicate with one another to reach success. This experience helps motivate and give confidence to the students to continue overcoming whatever challenges they may face in the future.”

Diversity and Role Models in Camp Staff is Important

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Centering deaf youth was also a message echoed by Traci Branch from Map Your Future.

Traci explained, “Our students come from a range of different backgrounds. The students tend to discover that they have some things in common when they share their stories. They learn from each other. It’s really a beautiful experience to witness that.”

Traci Branch, Statewide Transition Specialist for Deaf & Hard of Hearing

Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS)

Camp: Map Your Future

Another thing that really inspires the students is the staff themselves and their experiences regarding their deafness. We have some staff who are deaf. Some may be hard of hearing, some may not sign fluently, and some are also hearing who may be a CODA. 

The stories and experiences that are shared through camp are great for the students to look up to as their deaf and hard of hearing role models and recognize diversity when they leave the camp. I also would like to share another neat thing that we have done, which is how we would include the students from last year’s program to be part of the planning for this year’s program.

We have noticed that it increased their self-confidence because, as NDC has mentioned, deaf people often do not get the social experiences, since there aren’t that many opportunities for summer camps and leadership opportunities are rare.


Summer Programs for Deaf Youth: Stories and Strategies

While research affirms the benefits of summer programs for all youth, less information is available about effective summer programming for deaf youth. This module seeks to bridge this gap by providing important information for professionals about designing accessible deaf youth summer programs. Learn WHY summer programming is important, WHAT states have learned in building summer programs, and HOW to get started in launching or strengthening a deaf youth summer program. Gain insight from video interviews with deaf people about their experiences, information from those who have successfully started summer programs, and some examples from the field.

Camps Across America

Summer camps are an important activity for state agencies and communities across the country. Deaf youth benefit not only from the curriculum, but also from interactions with their peers and role models.

NDC has created a spreadsheet with a list of camps across the country—but we need your help to grow this list! If you know of any camps for deaf students that are not on this list, fill out the form linked below and let us know.

From Our Video Library

Topic: Developing Summer Programs
As a child, Alison attended a mainstream school during the school year and participated in deaf camp each summer as a balance. She describes how…
Topic: Developing Summer Programs
Carlos compares his experiences at a traditional hearing camp to being a staff member at a camp for deaf campers….
Topic: Developing Summer Programs
Felix relates his experiences at DeafBlind camp in Washington and how they helped him cultivate a sense of pride in his identity….

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