Catch a Wave


On March 25, 1996, 17-year-old surfer Jesse Billauer was at the top of his game. “I was one of the top junior surfers in the world, a month away from turning pro, when I pulled inside a barrel and got thrown headfirst into a sandbar. The impact broke my sixth vertebrae and I instantly became a quadriplegic,” Billauer writes on his website. From that moment on, the course of Billauer’s life changed dramatically. Initially, he thought his surfing career was over. But then he discovered adaptive surfing. In 2001, he founded Life Rolls On, a nonprofit “dedicated to improving the quality of life for people living with various disabilities.”  The organization offers one day surfing and skating clinics across North America. Billauer also became a world champion quadriplegic adaptive surfer in 2015.

Life Rolls On is just one of many surfing programs around the world that serve people with disabilities. According to the California Surf Museum, “Adaptive surfing has made a stratospheric leap both recreationally and competitively. Inventive board design collaborations, between adaptive surfers and shapers, have allowed athletes to perform on the world stage with mind-blowing results and achievements.”

But surfing isn’t only for competitive athletes. In fact, the sport has been shown to provide health benefits for everyone! Cardiovascular fitness, stress reduction, improved flexibility and muscle tone, and greater self-confidence are just some of the positive effects of surfing. Ready to try it? Check out this list of adaptive surfing programs.

1. Surfers Healing

Designed for surfers with autism, Surfers Healing founded by Israel and Danielle Paskowitz. The couple discovered that riding waves with his father (Israel Paskowitz is the son of Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, Israel’s first surfer!) was the one thing that helped their son Isaiah, who has autism, to relax. Surfers Healing offers free 1-day “surf camps” to children with autism in coastal cities within the U.S. as well as in Mexico and Australia.

2. Surf for All

Inspired by Surfers Healing, Surf for All, a Long Beach, N.Y. nonprofit, teaches surfing to injured veterans, as well as children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, blindness, and paraplegia. The surfing school was founded by brothers third generation surfers Will, 30, and Cliff Skudin, the owners of local surfing school, Skudin Surf. Well-aware of the “power of the waves and the restorative nature of the ocean” the Skudin brothers were convinced that “no disability was too daunting to prevent them from exposing others to the benefits of the ocean.” They offer adaptive surfing camps as well as Surf for All’s annual Surf Competition.

3. Surfers for Autism

Founded in Boca Raton, Fla. in 2007, Surfers for Autism’s mission is introducing children and adults with autism to “the healing powers of the ocean.” Since it began, the nonprofit has expanded to provide surfing experiences to people all over the state.  They routinely host 200 surfing students at their one-day events.

4. A Walk on Water

This nonprofit offers “surf therapy” to children with a variety of disabilities including blindness, autism and epilepsy. According to A Walk on Water’s website, “surf therapy is … a form of water therapy whereby the participant is introduced to the ocean and surfing through guided surf instruction, either tandem surfing with an instructor on the same board, or surfing solo with close instructor oversight.” Day-long experiences take place March–November on beaches in California, Texas, Virginia, New Jersey and New York.

5. Junior Seau Foundation

In partnership with the Challenged Athlete Association, the Junior Seau Foundation Adaptive Surfing Camp (named for the late football linebacker) provides 2-day surfing camps for children with disabilities such as paraplegia and spina bifida. The camps even offer mentorship opportunities with elite adaptive surfers!

Five Family Camps You Should Know About

Family of five sitting around a campfire

In recent years, more and more summer camps have created inclusive camping programs for children with disabilities. In these camps, children with disabilities experience camp alongside their typically developing peers. Other camps set aside designated weeks when they offer programming specifically geared toward children with special needs. But families who want their children with disabilities to enjoy authentic summer camp experiences also have another option — family camps! Like traditional summer camps, family camps offer healthy outdoor living and opportunities to sample new activities, acquire new hobbies, develop talents and practice socialization skills. Additionally, they offer families the chance to bond with each other as well as with other families who face similar challenges. Family camp is also a great way to help future campers acclimate to summer camp before sending them off to camp on their own. We’ve searched the internet and compiled this listing of family camps that serve families with children with special needs.

Camp Akeela
Located in Thetford Center, Vt., Camp Akeela serves campers with high functioning Asperger’s syndrome, non-verbal learning disabilities and their families. Parents and children participate in typical camp activities such as sports, arts & crafts, swimming, boating, campfires, climbing and ropes course. The daily schedule includes a mix of kids-only; parents-only and family activities. It’s not too late to register for this summer! Family camp runs from Aug.16-Aug. 21.

Easter Seals Family Camp
Easter Seals runs two family camps, both of which are in Ontario, Canada. To be eligible, campers must be under 18 and have a physical disability. Each camp is five days long and features activities including games, crafts, archery, swimming and more. There is a mix of family, children’s and adult programming and families can participate in as many or as few activities as they like. Parents are responsible for their children’s medical needs, but supervision is provided during children’s recreational activities and childcare is available until 10 p.m. every evening.

Camp Merrywood in Perth, Ontario is in session Aug. 20-25.

Camp Woodeden, in London, Ontario runs from Aug. 4-Aug. 9.

Both camps are currently full but have waiting lists.

Whispering Winds Special Needs Family Camp
This Christian camp located about an hour from San Diego offers an opportunity for children with developmental disabilities, their parents and siblings to experience the joys of summer camp while communing with other families in a safe and accepting environment. While children and siblings participate in age-appropriate camp activities, parents have opportunities to take part in programming designed to strengthen and fortify their marriages. The camp’s staff includes special educators, developmental disabilities experts and trained buddies. Whispering Winds Special Needs Family Camp weekend takes place from July 26-July 28.

Camp Raman Tikvah Family Camp
Serving Jewish campers with developmental disabilities and their families, Camp Tikvah, in the Poconos Mountains, offers activities like music, Israeli dancing, arts & crafts, swimming and athletics as well as Jewish learning and Shabbat services around the lake. Each camper is paired with a buddy and special programming is provided for siblings. Parents are invited to participate in daily sessions about raising children with special needs. This year’s session takes place from Aug. 14-Aug. 18.

Joni & Friends Family Retreat
These week-long family retreats for families whose loved one has a disability not only offer traditional summer camping activities in a Christian environment, they also provide respite for exhausted parents. Camps’ grounds are entirely accessible and children are attended to by trained volunteers. Joni & Friends offers several different types of retreats in different locations including the Traditional Family Retreat, Urban Family, Single Parent Getaway, Wounded Warrior Getaway, and Marriage Getaway. The following Joni & Friends family retreats take place in the late summer:

Trout Lake Family Retreat, Potosi, MO (July 26-July 29)

Spruce Lake Family Retreat, Canadensis, PA (July 29-Aug. 2)

Bison Ranch Adult Family Retreat, Overgaard, AZ (July 31-Aug.4)

Bonclarken Family Retreat, Bonclarken, NC (Aug. 5-Aug.9)

Chicago Urban Retreat, Cedar Lake, IN (Aug. 11-Aug. 15)

Bonclarken Family Retreat II, Bonclarken, NC (Aug. 12-Aug. 16)

Twin Rocks Family Retreat, Rockaway Beach, OR (Aug. 12-Aug. 16)


Best Vacation Spots With Excellent Handicap Access

best vacation spots for handicap accessibility

Going on vacation always requires a good deal of planning. You need to arrange flights, drive highways and book accommodations. The process isn’t simple, and the logistics become more complex when you or one of your travel companions is living with a disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Unfortunately, there are many places that are not compliant and do not provide accessible options for wheelchair users and those with other disabilities. After weeks or months of anticipation, few things are worse than getting to your destination and finding that they can’t accommodate a disability. For that reason, we’ve rounded up the best accessible travel destinations in America.

Accessible Amusement Parks

There’s nothing quite like the wonder and thrill of an amusement park. With large crowds and attractions at every turn, it’s important to pick an amusement park that has something to offer for those with differing abilities. The following are some of the best places to vacation with handicap access.

1. Disneyland & Disney World

There’s a lot to love about the wonderful world of Disney, whether you’re visiting the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., or the original Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif. Both parks have a variety of accommodations for guests with disabilities, including parking.

Disney World features separate disability parking lots for people with personal wheelchairs or other mobility devices. These lots are available throughout the four parks at the resort, although courtesy trams don’t stop there. Both Disneyland and Disney World require a valid disability parking permit and have standard parking rates.

handicap accessible rides at Disney

When it comes to wheelchair-friendly attractions, Disney World is unmatched. Guests can choose from more than 40, at three levels of access:

  • Must transfer from wheelchair or electric conveyance vehicle (ECV) to ride
  • Must transfer from ECV to a wheelchair to ride
  • Must transfer from ECV to a wheelchair, then from a wheelchair to ride

The attractions which allow guests to stay in a wheelchair or ECV are found in these areas of the park:

  • Magic Kingdom Park
  • Epcot
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park
  • Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park

Disneyland also has an extensive list of wheelchair-accessible attractions located all over the park as well as other services for guests with mobility disabilities.

Both Disney World and Disneyland both have a comprehensive host of services that cater to multiple disabilities. Their services for guests with autism and other cognitive disabilities are particularly robust, including:

  • Advance ticket purchase
  • Stroller, wheelchair and ECV rental
  • Quiet break areas
  • Companion restrooms
  • Dietary accommodations

Both of the parks’ Disability Access Services (DAS) allow guests to schedule their visits to rides and attractions so they don’t have to wait in a long queue that could cause distress. With DAS, guests can spend the intervening time exploring the park, enjoying entertainment or even checking out a different attraction while they wait. Other services are available to assist those with:

  • Visual disabilities
  • Hearing disabilities
  • Light sensitivity

Service animals are welcome for those who need them. For visual information on Disneyland’s accessibility and what to expect in the park, you can view the Park Guide for Guests With Disabilities. Disney World offers four guides to different sections.

2. Sesame Place

Located in Philadelphia, Sesame Place is a theme and water park based on the beloved kids’ show Sesame Street. It also happens to be one of the best vacation spots for wheelchairs. In keeping with the show’s reputation for ever-expanding inclusivity, Sesame Place has a robust accessibility program that makes it one of the best East Coast vacation spots with handicap access. They are the first theme park in the world to receive designation as a Certified Autism Center (CAC).

sesame place certified autism center

The park has partnered with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) to ensure guests with autism can enjoy the park and have their particular needs met. The staff is specially trained in the following areas:

  • Autism overview
  • Sensory awareness
  • Motor skills
  • Program development
  • Social skills
  • Communication
  • Environment
  • Emotional awareness

In addition to a highly-trained cast of team members, Sesame Place has a Ride Accessibility Program (RAP). This unique feature uses a questionnaire to match the abilities of individual guests to each ride. After completing the questionnaire, you can bring it to the park’s Welcome Center and receive a personalized list of the rides and attractions that meet your or your companion’s special needs. Some of the park’s other accessibility services include:

  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • Low-sensory areas
  • Low-sensory parade seating
  • Show scripts
  • Sign language interpretation
  • Wheelchair rentals
  • Wheelchair parade seating

Sesame Places’ Dedicated Sensory Rooms

If you have a child with special needs who may become overstimulated, you can take advantage of two brand new sensory rooms to help them calm down and enjoy the rest of the day. Enabling Devices was proud to partner with Sesame Place in the creation of these rooms and provided many products designed to soothe and engage kids.

3. Morgan’s Wonderland

While other theme parks may provide excellent accommodations for guests with disabilities, Morgan’s Wonderland was designed for accessibility from the ground up. This non-profit “oasis of inclusion” is situated on 25 acres in San Antonio, Texas.

The founder, Gordon Hartman, was inspired by his daughter, Morgan. Her physical and cognitive challenges were the basis for Gordon’s mission to provide a place for special needs people of all ages to experience wonder and joy. The result is a 100% wheelchair-accessible Wonderland.

The success of this ultra-inclusive theme park gave rise to a sister water park, Morgan’s Inspiration Island, complete with waterproof wheelchairs available for rental. If you want a completely accessible park, Morgan’s Wonderland is the amusement park for you.

Accessible Cruises

There’s nothing quite like a cruise to bring on deep relaxation and stoke your sense of adventure. However, navigating a cruise ship with a mobility-based disability can be a bit of a headache if you don’t know what you’re getting into. Here are three cruises to consider.

1. Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas

The Symphony of the Seas is the place to be if you want to enjoy gorgeous views, gourmet food and stunning shows. It’s also an excellent cruise option for those with mobility disabilities. The ship has 46 accessible cabins, which feature:

  • Doors at least 32 inches wide
  • No doorsill to get into the room
  • Ramped bathroom thresholds
  • Grab bars in the bathroom
  • Lowered sinks
  • Roll-in showers
  • Fold-down shower benches
  • Hand-held showerheads
  • Lowered safes

The accessibility of the staterooms is essential, but you don’t want to spend your whole vacation in your room. The recreational facilities have several accessibility perks, including:

  • Lifts at the main pool and whirlpool
  • Lowered playing tables at the casino
  • Wheelchair seating in front and back of the Royal Theater, Studio B and Aqua Theater
  • Braille deck and stateroom numbers
  • Assistive listening systems in theaters
  • Amplified phones

royal Caribbean cruise with sign language interpreter

If a sign language interpreter is required, this cruise will provide one as long as you provide at least 60 days’ notice before the cruise departs.

2. Disney Cruise Line: Fantasy

You can surround yourself with the trademark magic of Disney by booking a cruise on the Fantasy. This cruise is all about immersing yourself in fun and fantasy and offers some standard disability accommodations. In addition to the same ADA specifications for 25 wheelchair-friendly staterooms and bathrooms inside them, this Disney cruise ship offers a variety of other accommodations, including:

  • Sign Language Interpretation: The sign language service interprets live theater performances and other shows for the first dinner seating and the late performance in the Walt Disney Theater.
  • Assistive Listening Devices: For a refundable deposit, guests with mild to moderate hearing loss can use amplified receivers at multiple stations around the ship.
  • Room Service Texting: Guests can use their phones to text for room service, rather than calling in.
  • Stateroom Communication Kit: This kit includes an alarm clock, bed shaker notification, alerts for the doorbell and phone, and a smoke detector that uses a strobe light.
  • Audio Description: You can experience movies in the Buena Vista Theatre with audio description by picking up a receiver at guest services.

Disney cruise accessibility accommodations

One of the unique features of this cruise line is Castaway Cay. This private Disney island is packed full of adventure and excitement. The island has its own tram for transportation, as well as an accessible cabana. One of the most enticing features is the availability of sand wheelchairs for rental. This opens up a world of possibilities that most other cruises don’t offer.

Note that if you require sign language interpretation or the use of a pull lift, you’ll have to request these services before you book your cruise.

3. Carnival Horizon

The Carnival Horizon takes a unique approach to staterooms for guests by offering three different tiers of accessible rooms:

  • Fully Accessible Cabins: These rooms are designed for guests with highly limited mobility. To meet the needs of those who need wheelchairs or scooters, these rooms feature turning space, accessible routes through the room and an accessible restroom.
  • Single Side Approach Cabins: These rooms feature the same accessible bathroom, but offer an accessible route and clear space for only one side of the bed. In rooms with two beds, one side of each bed is accessible.
  • Ambulatory Accessible Cabins: These rooms are designed for guests who have some limitations in mobility but who don’t use a scooter or wheelchair. They have features such as grab bars to help with balance.

There are 65 accessible rooms altogether. All rooms are assigned on a first-come-first-served basis, so it’s a good idea to reserve your accessible room as far in advance as possible.

Carnival Horizon Cruise wheelchair accessible

As for the rest of the ship, wheelchair users have plenty of freedom to roam. The ship’s dining areas, bars and the main theater all have wheelchair seating. For those with other types of disabilities, Carnival offers these services:

  • Visual-tactile cabin alert system
  • Teletypewriter to communicate with Guest Services
  • Amplifying headsets
  • Sign language interpreters
  • Braille signage
  • Large print format on some publications

Those with working service dogs are permitted to bring them aboard, but you should review all policies and procedures to ensure the dog is up to date on all veterinary requirements.

Accessible Beaches

Beaches are one of the classic places for summer vacations, but beach travel destinations with wheelchair access can be hard to locate. The following summer destinations with wheelchair access are some of the best places to have fun in the sun.

1. San Diego, California

San Diego is known for being one of the most accessible cities for disabled beach-goers. Many of the beaches have sand wheelchairs available for free rental, whether powered or manual. The thing to remember is that there’s often no reservation for the chairs, and it’s first-come-first-served. On some of the more popular, crowded beaches, this can mean having to wait a while for your turn. Here are three of the best San Diego beaches with wheelchair access:

  • Mission Beach: This is an extremely popular beach where there’s always something going on. The most active sections feature people cycling, rollerblading, skateboarding and more. The south end of the beach is quieter, but its parking and bathrooms are not always fully accessible.
  • La Jolla Shores: This beach is very family-friendly and located a short drive north of downtown. There is a wide paved walkway between the beach and nearby Kellog Park, as well as an accessible bathroom and parking lot.
  • Imperial Beach: If you’re concerned about the chair rental process, Imperial Beach is one of the few that requires a reservation. They have two power chairs available for use on the beautiful beach, and manual chairs you can use with no reservation.

San Diego Wheelchair Accessible Beaches

2. Key Largo, Florida

If you’re looking for summer destinations with wheelchair access, consider heading on down to Florida to experience Tranquil Adventures. This not-for-profit organization was founded more than 30 years ago by Captain Mick Nealy with the mission of providing accessible boat tours for people with disabilities. As a survivor of polio, Captain Nealy has a unique understanding of what makes an experience magical for people with disabilities.

The dock and both boats are completely accessible to wheelchairs. Equipped with Coast Guard-approved safety measures, each boat can fit four people in wheelchairs and a total of 10 individuals. It doesn’t get much more family-friendly than these boat outings. Here are a few of the possible destinations on a Tranquil Adventures tour:

  • Key Largo Bay
  • Everglades National Park
  • Pennekamp State Park
  • Blackwater Sound

Participants can go fishing or snorkeling, try out island hopping, visit a beach party or stop off at a tiki bar. The combinations are nearly endless, making for a valuable repeat experience.

These tours cost $350 for a four-hour half day and $500 if you want to make a full eight-hour day of it. As wheelchair accessible travel destinations go, Tranquil Adventures tours get top marks.

3. Hanauma Bay, Hawaii

Vacationers with a taste for adventure will love Hanauma Bay State Park. This nature preserve has a gorgeous crescent-shaped beach and the very unique appeal of being formed by the crater of a dormant volcano. The soft white sands are both picturesque and ideal for those who need to rent a wheelchair to traverse the beach. The balloon-tired beach chairs are available free of charge from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. all year.

handicap accessible beaches hawaii hanauma bay

A tram takes visitors to and from the beach area, and it has a ramp to accommodate wheelchairs. Additionally, city buses have kneeling capabilities so you’re not limited to the beach in your exploration. All of the Bay’s facilities have been designed with accessibility in mind.

Activities are not in short supply at Hanauma Bay. Some of the things to do include:

  • Snorkeling
  • Catamaran tours
  • Wild dolphin watching
  • Island tours
  • Luaus
  • Sunset dinner cruises
  • Helicopter tours

This is hands down one of the most handicapped accessible travel destinations, and a perfect spot for family fun.

Accessible National Parks

Many people assume that they’ll have to cross national parks off the list of accessible destinations since they often require a lot of hiking and other activities unsuitable for those with disabilities. However, several national parks make great handicap access vacation spots. Additionally, if you’re a U.S. citizen and permanently disabled, you can get an Interagency Access Pass for lifetime free admission. The three parks below are definitely worth a visit.

1. Grand Canyon National Park

Arizona’s Grand Canyon is undoubtedly a destination worth seeing in your lifetime, and the park has made it easy for wheelchair users to plan an unforgettable trip. The park has a variety of accessible facilities including:

  • ATMs
  • Bookstores
  • Restrooms
  • Gift shops
  • Dining areas
  • Lodging and campgrounds
  • Shuttle buses
  • Teletypewriter

If you need a sign language interpreter, give the park at least three weeks’ notice and one will be provided. The park also offers a cell phone tour and has wheelchairs available for rental at both the North and South Rim.

The park has several wheelchair-accessible trails and multiple scenic drives where you can take in a gorgeous vista without leaving your vehicle. Scenic drive accessibility permits are available for visitors with mobility issues. You can enjoy a variety of activities such as a wheelchair-accessible tour of an ancestral Puebloan village or a visit to the Yavapai Geology Museum. To get the details on which trails and facilities are accessible, as well as rules for bringing a service animal, check out the park’s Accessibility Guide.

2. Zion National Park

Located in Utah, Zion National Park makes camping and immersing yourself in nature easier. There are multiple campsites set aside for visitors with disabilities, and service dogs are permitted throughout the park as long as they are leashed. The ranger program schedule indicates which programs are accessible, and you can reserve assistive listening devices for any program.

The park has multiple trails suitable for wheelchair users, with the Pa’rus Trail being the most handicap-friendly. The trail is fairly short at 1.5 miles long and has a smoothly-paved width of 8 feet so wheelchairs can roll right alongside walking visitors. The Riverside Walk is also a good option, as the first 0.4 miles are accessible. In addition to the trails, these other park attractions all offer some degree of accessibility:

  • Canyon Visitor Center
  • Human History Museum
  • Kolob Canyons Visitor Center
  • Canyon Transportation
  • Zion Lodge
  • Picnic areas
  • Watchman Campground

Zion National Park is an excellent option if you’re looking to immerse yourself in Utah’s natural beauty.

handicap accessibility Zion National Park

3. Everglades National Park

At a whopping 1.5 million square acres of tropical and subtropical habitat, the sheer size of the Everglades National Park means some parts of it are inaccessible. However, plenty of sites and trails are available for those with mobility disabilities.

The Royal Palm Visitor Center is the best place to start. From clearly-marked spots with handicap access in the parking lot to trailheads and a store accessible by curb ramp, this part of the park is one of the best handicap access vacation spots. This area has two accessible trails:

  • Anhinga Trail: This trail is 0.8 miles long round-trip, making it ideal for those who prefer a short jaunt into nature. The abundance of wildlife, from alligators to anhingas, makes this a popular destination.
  • Gumbo Limbo Trail: This trail is even shorter at 0.4 miles round trip. It is paved and meanders through a shady covering of gumbo limbo trees.

These paved paths do sometimes have mild to moderate cracks in them, but they are not disruptive enough to prevent the average wheelchair user from enjoying the trails.

If you’d like to venture into the heart of the park, Shark Valley is the place to do so. The road here is flat and paved, and there is a wheelchair overlook along the path. It’s also home to the Bobcat Boardwalk, a sensational place to get views of the marsh.

Enhance Your Vacation With Enabling Devices

If you’re traveling with a child or other individual who has special needs, accessibility is just the beginning. Enabling Devices is committed to providing a huge selection of products for people with disabilities, from communication devices to sensory products. If you need adapted toys, games or other devices to make your vacation time easier and more engaging for a disabled individual, we invite you to browse our selection of products and learn more about our services.


Making Museums Accessible and Inclusive

Person with VI Feeling an Art Sculpture

At first glance, it looks like a piece of the paper mache’ and mirror sculpture, “Os Saltimbancos” (“The Acrobats”), by Portuguese artist Jose’ de Guimaraes, has broken off. The brightly colored fragment lies on the floor next to the sculpture (see image below). Yet, an inquiry with the gallery’s security guard assures concerned museum goers that no, the sculpture isn’t broken. Instead, the fragment is placed purposely next to the sculpture so that blind and visually impaired visitors can explore the work of art by touching it. The same is true for another sculpture in the same gallery, “Marcelino Vespeira’s “O Menino Imperativo” (Imperative Boy”) which is exhibited with a replica right next to it. Visitors are free to touch the much smaller replica.  Some original works can also be touched if the individual wears gloves.

In the past decade or so, museums in the United States and around the world have boosted efforts to make their institutions more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities.

Museum educators at Lisbon, Portugal’s Calouste Gulbenkian Museum recently established a new tour especially for visually impaired and blind visitors to help them to experience the museum’s visual art. Special needs educator Margarida Rodrigues says the program for the blind is just one of the programs the museum offers for people with special needs. “We started by offering programs for people with mental illness,” says Rodrigues. Nowadays, the museum also offers programming for people who are blind, deaf, have cerebral palsy, autism and intellectual disabilities.

A partner of the Tandem Project, The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is one of seven institutions representing seven countries that “meet to test, develop and share tools and new approaches for people with disabilities to explore museums. The project aims to support better understanding of inclusivity in education and ability to creatively deal with diverse groups of learners with and without disabilities,” according to Tandem’s website.

Rodrigues says the activities that she and Margarida Vieira, who oversees the activities program for the public with disabilities, offer for museum visitors “always kick off with a work of art.” Depending on the nature of visitors’ disabilities, activities may include a mix of drawing, movement, auditory and tactile experiences. Rodrigues says that the museum educators often use sound with visitors with cerebral palsy. “We ask ‘can sound have color? Can we grab sound?’ Feeling vibration is wonderful for people with CP. They relax, can control and mix sound, create an orchestra tech sound.”

The museum’s disability program helps visitors with disabilities “gain comfort in the museum… express themselves… and explore issues of identity and body image,” says Rodrigues. Perhaps most importantly, the program provides visitors with disabilities an opportunity to have fun!


Six Ways That Swimming Benefits People with Disabilities

Therapist Working with Girl in a Pool

Swimming is a terrific way to cool off during the summer months and an effective way to stay fit throughout the year. It’s also a safety skill that everyone needs to learn. In recent years, more and more swim education programs have begun to offer swim lessons for people with special needs. It’s no wonder. The National Autism Association reports that, “drowning is among the leading causes of death of individuals with autism.” But swimming benefits children and adults with all types of special needs. Here are just some of the reasons why recreational swimming and swimming lessons are a worthwhile investment:

Swimming improves heart and lung health
According to the CDC, nearly half of all adults with disabilities don’t get any aerobic physical activity. Exercise is an essential part of maintaining one’s health, and swimming is an excellent way for people with mobility challenges to stay fit. In fact, Paralympic swimming coach Queenie Nichols, says “Athletes with disabilities, from below-knee amputations to severe quads, can compete and compete successfully.” That being said, it’s not necessary to be an elite athlete to reap the health benefits of swimming or adaptive swimming. These benefits include strengthening the cardiovascular system without putting undue stress on the body.

Swimming helps people with disabilities to maintain a healthy weight
The President’s Council on Health, Fitness and Nutrition reports that in children with disabilities, “obesity rates are approximately 38% higher than for children without disabilities. It gets worse for the adult population where obesity rates for adults with disabilities are approximately 57% higher than for adults without disabilities.” Swimming burns many calories making it a terrific treatment for obesity.

 Swimming improves motor skills and coordination
Swimming doesn’t require the level of motor skill development and coordination that some other sports do. At the same time, it helps to develop those skills. According to Natural, “Swimmers of all ages will experience a boost to their brain development, due to the kicking of their legs and movement of their arms at the same time. As you work through this combination, you’ll begin to notice a boost in motor skills.”

Swimming builds muscle strength, and increases flexibility
Swimming strengthens just about every muscle group in the body. Since water helps to support muscles, it’s an ideal form of exercise for those who are unable to do other muscle-building types of exercise. Swimming in a heated pool also helps to increase flexibility by relaxing the muscles. That’s why swimming is such an excellent activity for people with cerebral palsy, who often struggle with spasticity.

Swimming reduces pain
Studies show that swimming reduces pain for people with multiple sclerosis, arthritis and other disorders that cause chronic pain. Swimming and aquatherapy also help to facilitate healing for those rehabbing an injury.

Improves mental health
Research show that swimming improves symptoms of anxiety and depression, reduces stress and fatigue and builds confidence. Participating in a swimming class for people with special needs also provides valuable socialization opportunities.



Five Ways to Create a Sensory Garden for the Visually Impaired

Little Girl Smelling a Peony

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;          
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush          
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring          
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing; — Gerard Manley Hopkins
Written in May 1877, but unpublished until 1918, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sonnet “Spring” captures the season of rebirth as perfectly today as it did then. Indeed, spring has a way of bringing us joy and enlivening our senses. Those who are blind or visually impaired may not be able to fully appreciate colors and landscape design, but sensory gardens offer them a unique and enchanting way to experience nature and engage their other four senses.

According to Jackie Carroll of Gardening Know, “A garden for the blind, or for those with diminished sight, is one that appeals to all the senses without overwhelming them. In fact, garden plants for visually impaired individuals include those that can be touched, smelled, tasted, or even heard.” Here are some important considerations when designing a sensory garden for blind or VI people:

Safety and easy navigation are critical when designing a garden for blind or VI individuals. Carroll recommends garden design include “straight pathways and landmarks…[changes] in walkway texture… Railings, says Carroll, “should accompany any change in topography and begin a few feet before inclines or declines.” When selecting plants for the garden avoid prickly or thorny bushes and flowers. Poisonous plants should also be avoided since they could be accidentally ingested, or could cause reactions such as poison ivy and poison oak.

It goes without saying that fragrance is a critically important aspect of sensory gardens. But it’s important to choose scents carefully. Over-powering fragrances may be unpleasant for a blind or VI person with a heightened sensitivity to odors. Used selectively, fragrance helps visually impaired individuals find their way around the garden and of course — provides a pleasurable olfactory experience. Planet Natural suggests “a combination of scents that range from subtle to more intense… to produce the greatest variety and interest. Plants to consider for their scent include honeysuckle, lavender, violets, mint, and chocolate cosmos, which release a chocolate-like scent.”

Incorporate auditory elements to the sensory garden with wind chimes and water features such as trickling fountains and birdbaths that attract the lovely sound of chirping birds. Master gardener Susan Patterson suggests choosing “plant flora that makes noise when the wind passes through them, such as bamboo stems. Many seedpods make interesting sounds as well, and the end of season leaves provide a fun crunching sound under feet,” adds Patterson. “You can also include plants that encourage wildlife in the garden. The buzzing of a bee, the chirping of a cricket or the whizzing of a hummingbird all stimulates the sense of hearing.”

Sensory gardens offer a wonderful opportunity for tactile exploration. Plants and flowers with interesting textures include pussy willow, wooly thyme, chenille and hyacinth. Some plants such as scented geranium, release their scents when they are touched. For example, geraniums, lemon balm and mint.

Edible flowers add another sensory dimension to the garden. Examples from Planet Natural include “nasturtiums, evening primrose, hibiscus, and pansy.” Berries, fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and spices are another great addition. When planting edible flowers, fruits, herbs and spices, take care to place them in an area that’s distinct from the rest of the garden. This is particularly important for VI or blind people who may not be able to distinguish between edible and inedible plants.


Spring State of Mind

Man in Wheelchair Enjoying a Sunset

Though winter weather persists in many parts of the U.S., signs of spring are all around us.  Soon, we’ll find ourselves and our children itching to get outdoors to enjoy the warm temperatures, and sunshine. But when your child uses a wheelchair, finding accessible outdoor activities can be challenging. That needn’t discourage you. With a little research and ingenuity, you and your loved ones will be basking in the glow of spring!

1. Take a Hike
Enjoy family hikes before the weather gets too hot. These days, many trails can accommodate wheelchairs. If you aren’t sure which trails are accessible, visit The website is the place to find out which trails in your area are designed with wheelchair users in mind and it also provides descriptions and other valuable information about each trail.

2. Find an accessible playground
Though not nearly as common as we would like, accessible playgrounds are more common than they were in the past. includes a listing of wheelchair accessible and inclusive playgrounds all over the country. Hopefully, there’s one in your neck of the woods.

3. Take a long weekend away
These days, many online resources cater to the need of travelers with mobility challenges. Whether you’re seeking accessible lodging, transportation options, restaurants or recreational facilities, websites such as, and can help you organize a trip that will offer fun, adventure and relaxation for every member of the family.

4. Embrace Adventure
Though there aren’t a ton of venues where wheelchair users can enjoy the freedom and excitement of ziplines, high ropes courses and adventure-based learning, these facilities do exist. Check out The Root Farm in Saukwoit, N.Y. Note: some summer camps also offer accessible ropes courses.

5. Try Adaptive Sports
Being a wheelchair user no longer means that sports aren’t accessible. In fact, nowadays almost every sport is available to people with physical disabilities. Visit to find out how your child can participate in outdoor sports including archery, basketball, canoeing, cycling and more.

6. Go fishing
Fishing Has No Boundaries believes the joy of fishing should be available to all, regardless of ability level. A national nonprofit, the organization now has 27 chapters in 13 states. Hopefully, one is located in your area of the country.

7. Visit a Botanical Garden
Nothing says Spring like a trip to a botanical garden. Most have wheelchair accessible paths and facilities, but check individual sites before heading out.

8. Attend an outdoor concert
Hearing a favorite band or musical ensemble outdoors is one of spring and summer’s greatest joys. But when you can’t access the park or stadium where the concert is being held, it’s far from fun. recommends researching the venue ahead of time; asking questions; purchasing tickets beforehand and arriving early. After the concert, says Mobilityworks, be sure to review the venue online at sites like Yelp, Facebook and Google “to help improve accessibility awareness.”


Inclusive Volunteer Programs Welcome Altruistic People with Disabilities

First observed in 1986, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, honors the birthday of the most iconic civil rights leader of our time. In 1994, the holiday also became a national day of service or as the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) puts it: “A day on, not a day off.” CNCS says its “MLK Day of Service is intended to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.”

This year’s MLK Day, on Jan. 21, saw thousands of Americans taking part in volunteer projects of all kinds. But until recently, people with disabilities were viewed as the recipients of other people’s volunteer efforts, not as volunteers in their own rights.

Obstacles facing people with disabilities who want to volunteer include misconceptions about their abilities and about the costs associated with making volunteer sites or activities accessible. Individuals with disabilities may also contend with lack of access to reliable transportation and fears that they may lose their disability benefits if they perform volunteer work. All of these assumptions — most of which are inaccurate — are unfortunate, because prospective volunteers, as well as organizations that need volunteers, can all benefit from inclusive volunteer programs.

The benefits of volunteer work for people with disabilities include: increased self-esteem; increased awareness about the abilities of people with physical and/or intellectual challenges; opportunities for learning valuable work readiness; socialization opportunities; and a feeling of belonging to their communities. For organizations, inclusive volunteer programs provide free labor that helps to further their missions.

Yet, the landscape for inclusive volunteer organizations is improving. Nowadays organizations like CNCS are recognizing the value of volunteers with disabilities. For the third year in a row, CNCS has awarded grants to The ARC and five other organizations that serve people with disabilities “to plan and execute volunteer programs that will unite Americans in service.”

According to the ARC’s website, “In the first year of funding, chapters of The ARC recruited 705 volunteers who contributed over 5,700 hours of service and fed 10,230 people in need.” ARC volunteers have served their communities in a variety of ways including “serving meals at soup kitchens; preparing and delivering meals to seniors; stocking food pantries; beautifying community spaces; spending time with people who are isolated; and helping care for pets and other animals.”

Interested in getting started with volunteer work? The ARC provides comprehensive information for prospective volunteers and the organizations they wish to serve on its website. Visit them today:

Five Ways to Make the Most of Summertime

Boy on Porch Swing Reading a Book

For many children and parents, summertime provides a welcome respite from the stressors of the school year. With freedom from homework, bedtime battles, and morning meltdowns, families have time to slow down, kick back, and enjoy some much-needed R&R. But summertime also offers opportunities to practice social-emotional, physical and recreational skills that can make the coming school year less stressful and more successful. Here are some tips for helping your child make the most of the summer months.

Avoid summer slide
A literature review conducted by David M. Quinn and Morgan Polikoff of the Brookings Institution in 2017 concluded that “on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning…” Fortunately, it doesn’t take a great deal of effort to ensure that your student doesn’t regress. According to, “Research shows that reading just six books during the summer may keep a struggling reader from regressing.” You can also encourage a love of reading by reading aloud to children of all ages.

Discover new hobbies
Exploring interests and trying new things is worthwhile for all people, but for children with disabilities, who may face limitations of one sort or another, finding their unique talents and passions may be even more vital. Summer is a great time to try activities such as adaptive sports, music, art, drama, science or coding. Camps and community-based classes offer an ever-expanding smorgasbord of offerings.

Make friends
The summer season offers children a variety of social situations that aren’t always available during the school year. Camps, whether for children with special needs or for children of differing abilities, can be wonderful settings for making new friends and practicing social skills in a safe and nurturing environment. Likewise, the unstructured play that happens outdoors in the neighborhood, at the pool or in the playground can all be good places to forge friendships.

For example, says Shonna Tuck, writing for the Friendship Circle: “Parks provide primarily sensory (sand, water, etc.) and physical play that developmentally tends to be easier for young children struggling to connect and play with other kids.” You can help your child get started by initiating a game that will attract other children, says Tuck.

If your child has difficulty in social situations, summer is the perfect time to help her improve her interpersonal skills. A fun way for your child to practice these skills is by engaging a “peer mentor,” says Tuck. “…Older children tend to be able to fill in the social gaps of younger kids and provide additional social practice for your child.”

Learn vocational skills
For teens and young adults with special needs, summertime offers a range of vocational training opportunities. For example, “The Workforce Recruitment Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor connects federal and private sector employers across the country with college students and recent graduates with disabilities seeking summer and/or permanent jobs. Teens and young adults with special needs in Los Angeles can benefit from programs such as The Help Group’s Summer Vocational Training Program. The program offers individual and group activities that expose them to “real world work experience.” There’s a good chance that a program such as this one exists in your neck of the woods.

Enjoy family activities
During the school year, it can be hard to find time for family bonding. Summer vacations, day trips, and recreational activities offer precious opportunities for fun, learning, and strengthening relationships between parents, children and siblings. As Tuck points out, “Children build the strength and resilience they need knowing that they have a place at home and people at home who just ‘get them’ and love them for themselves.”


Water Play for Kids with Special Needs Offers Swimmingly Good Times

Boy Playing in Baby Pool

When the weather’s hot and humid, there’s nothing like a dip in the pool. And while swimming in a pool is one of the best ways to cool off, it certainly isn’t the only option. Whether it’s a day at the beach, a physical therapy session at the gym, a hosing off in the driveway or just splashing around in a plastic kiddy pool in the backyard, getting wet is one of the joys of summertime. For people with special needs, waterplay also has additional benefits you may not have considered.  Here are some of the ways in which water can be wonderfully therapeutic.

Increases sensory integration
According to Ilana Danneman, a physical therapist writing for Friendship Circle, “water activities are a tremendous asset to a starved or overactive sensory system. Water can energize, and yet it can also calm.” In the water, people with sensory integration challenges learn to acclimate to water temperature and texture, and may become more comfortable getting water on their faces and in their eyes. These skills can translate into important activities of daily living such as bathing and showering.

Builds strength and flexibility stresses the value of aquatic therapy for children who are blind or have developmental delays: “Water provides a natural resistance that can increase muscle strength, but this resistance is proportional to the effort exerted against it, so the harder you push or kick, the more of a workout you get. If you can’t push as hard, you get a small work out. The water automatically adjusts to your child’s needs.” Whether your child struggles with high muscle tone or low muscle tone, aquatic therapy is a terrific way to stretch and strengthen muscles.

Improves motor planning skills
Being in the water helps people who face challenges with proprioceptive input, such as those who are blind. “The constant light pressure that surrounds the body in the water is the perfect antidote to this problem,” since that pressure increases body awareness, says Wonderbaby.

Develops balancing skills
Water is a safe place to exercise and to practice balancing since the lack of gravity removes fears of falling on hard surfaces. As Danneman points out, “a baby pool can afford an emergent walker an opportunity to work on gait training and balance skills using a ring or float, much like a floor walker. Kids who are more advanced can walk and play around without the ring.”

Increases socialization and communication opportunities
Water is a great equalizer making it easier for children with mobility challenges to keep up with friends and family members. According to the folks at Kids Craft, “Water play can be an avenue for children to take their first steps from “playing alongside someone” to actually “playing with someone” as they follow other children’s ideas and join in with them.

Encourages water safety
Swimming lessons are a must for children with disabilities, particularly, children with autism who are prone to wandering. “Tragically, the leading cause of death among individuals with autism after wandering is drowning,” says Autism Speaks. The organization stresses the importance of starting to teach children about water safety and providing swimming lessons as early as possible.