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by Jana Peterson-Besse
Participation in programs that promote health and wellness, such as those that promote physical activity, nutrition, tobacco cessation, or mindfulness, is an important opportunity for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Maintaining good health, strength, and function over time can help a person maximize independence and self-determination. Just as important, these activities are enjoyable for many people. And, participation in inclusive community activities of this type builds friendships and community networks, improving well-being.
There are many options for engaging in wellness activities in communities, and disability should not exclude a person from participation. However, in reality there are too few wellness opportunities that are of high quality and truly inclusive. This article aims to help readers advocate for inclusive wellness opportunities in their communities by providing a list of key characteristics of quality, inclusive programs, as well as a set of tips for individuals with disabilities and their families seeking to advocate for and create inclusive wellness opportunities.
How do you know if a program is a quality wellness program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities? Several sets of guidelines for inclusive community wellness programs have been created. The following list draws upon those published by The Expert Panel on Disability and Health Promotion Interventions (Drum et al., 2009) and the Center on Disability at the Public Health Institute (Kraus & Jans, 2014):
There are wellness programs that seek inclusion by design, especially related to sports and recreation. You may be interested in looking for organizations such as these in your community. They include Special Olympics Unified Sports and inclusive outdoor recreation programs. A growing number of organizations seek to be inclusive of people of all abilities in their “fun run” fundraising events by putting on accessible run, walk, and roll events. Some company human resources groups are also seeking greater accessibility with wellness activities, such as lunchtime run, walk, and roll clubs. These activities still may not be fully accessible for all people with intellectual and developmental disability, so even if you find welcoming and inclusive wellness opportunities, communication and advocacy regarding your needs is always important.
In reality, participating in wellness activities in the community can be quite difficult. Most individuals have probably encountered multiple barriers, including accessibility problems, wellness professionals who lack training or have misinformed attitudes about people with disabilities, emphasis on segregated activities for people with disabilities, high costs, transportation issues, and lack of adequate supports. There are multiple sources of these barriers. Some of these barriers come from the programs themselves. Quality, inclusive wellness activities that welcome people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are difficult to find in many communities. Wellness and recreation providers may have a number of fears; they may be concerned about liability, worried about individuals with disabilities participating and having bad experiences, or reticent to open the door to accommodations they fear will be expensive or beyond their expertise.
Coming up against barriers to wellness participation in the community can be frustrating, but know that you can advocate for inclusion. Here are some tips to get you started:
People with disabilities also frequently encounter difficulty using existing programs and activities because of barriers from support services. These barriers are generally unintended, but can still hinder participation in wellness, especially inclusive wellness programs in the community. Service or support providers may be limited by resources, including staffing resources. Limited resources may limit transportation or individualized supports provided to clients with disabilities who want to participate in wellness in the community when other individuals want to stay home or do non-wellness activities. Service providers may feel limited by rules governing benefit programs and the types of supports that are eligible for reimbursement.
Therefore, individuals with disabilities and their families may also find themselves advocating for supports from service providers to access inclusive wellness programs in the community. These are some tips for increasing supports:
Be creative! While seeking out quality, inclusive programs and positive supports for participation, also remember that wellness should not be found only as part of a “program.” Inclusive wellness opportunities can emerge from other aspects of life, and maintaining health is easier when it is integrated into your lifestyle. I have a sister who has a developmental disability, and wellness has always been an important part of her life. Despite a number of different employment positions throughout her adult years, she has maintained part-time work or volunteer opportunities at her local YMCA. These jobs have been an important way for her to work in the community, but they have also provided wellness opportunities. She can go to work early or stay late and walk on the track or take in a Zumba class. As an employee, using the facilities is free. She has developed friendships with other employees and “regulars” at the Y, so even if she chooses to walk on the track alone, she sees people she knows, making workouts social opportunities.
Identify quality, advocate for inclusion, plan for supports, and work to incorporate wellness into your lifestyle. Have fun and be well!
Drum, C. E., Peterson, J. J., Culley, C., Krahn, G. L., Heller, T., Kimpton, T., McCubbin, J., Rimmer, J., Seekins, T., Suzuki, R., & White, G. W. (2009). Guidelines and criteria for the implementation of community-based health promotion programs for individuals with disabilities. American Journal of Health Promotion, 24(2), 93-101.
Kraus, L. E. & Jans, L. (2014). Implementation manual for guidelines for disability inclusion in physical activity, nutrition, and obesity programs and policies. Oakland CA: Center on Disability at the Public Health Institute. Retrieved from http://www.nchpad.org/fppics/Guidelines%20Implementations%20Manual_final.pdf
Jana Peterson-Besse is Assistant Professor of Public Health at Pacific University, Forest Grove, Oregon. She may be reached at email@example.com or 503/352-2044.
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Citation: Traci, M., Hsieh, K., Anderson, L., & Gaylord, V. (Eds.). (Winter 2016). Impact: Feature issue on supporting wellness for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, 29(1). [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration and Research and Training Center on Community Living]. Retrieved from https://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/291/
The PDF version of this Impact, with photos and graphics, is also online at http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/291/291.pdf.
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.