Pilates for Spinal Cord Injuries

Blog Pilates for Spinal Cord Injuries

Perhaps you’ve heard of Pilates. It’s a system of exercises intended to strengthen the mind and body using specially designed equipment. Created by Joseph Pilates, a German athlete, the system was introduced in Great Britain and the U.S. in the early 20th century.  At first, Pilates was practiced mostly by professional dancers, but the technique went mainstream in the 1990s and has become increasingly popular in the 2000s.

Recently, physical therapists and some Pilates instructors have discovered that the system has distinct advantages for individuals with spinal cord injuries.  These advantages include “improved stability, flexibility, core strength, shoulder, spinal and pelvic stability, a more balanced musculature, improved motivation and self-confidence/esteem,” write physical therapists Allison Cabot, Dawn-Marie Ickes and Gabrielle Shier in the Summer 2008 Balanced Body Pilates COREterly.

Emily Hagen of Baltimore couldn’t agree more. Some years after her husband Drew suffered a devastating car accident that left him unable to walk, talk, sit up or feed himself, Emily decided to become a Pilates instructor to help Drew build strength and regain function.

“I started realizing that some of the exercises we were doing might be helpful to Drew,” Emily recalls.

As she learned Pilates teaching techniques, Emily was able to adapt the exercises for Drew. She rigged a therapy table in their home to create a makeshift Pilates tower. She worked with Drew on core strength, trunk control, back strength and chest openers.

“Drew has too much roundness in his upper back,” notes Emily. “The Pilates Cadillac’s rollback bar helps to stretch his chest muscles to promote more openness in his front body and more of a natural curve in his upper back. It also helps with Drew’s body alignment. He needs to move both hands at the same time and that gives him resistance to work against. It’s like a guide to help his brain know he has to use more control.”

When Emily places a Pilates playground ball between Drew’s thighs, he’s learned to press his legs toward the center of his body. The movement activates his core and keeps his buttocks muscles engaged. “He loves the single leg stretch,” says Emily.

“After doing the instructor training, I’m able to cue him to make sure his muscles are firing in the right pattern. I’ve learned better touch technique and can envision what props will work best.”

These days, Drew is able to sit up and can take a few steps with support. He can type on an iPad, is mostly able to feed himself and can drink from a cup. He can navigate his power chair outside and has even learned to find his way home when he’s out and about in the neighborhood. “That’s really encouraging because he’s starting to program new memories,” said Emily.

Though Emily doesn’t credit Pilates with all of Drew’s progress, she’s certain Pilates exercises have contributed to his recovery.  “We try very hard to live as normally as possible,” said Emily, who says they attend rock concerts, have friends over, take walks and do household errands together. Though he’s still unable to talk, Drew is able to communicate his needs as well as his deep affection for Emily.

“It is what it is. I’m so blessed to have him here and for him to recognize me as his wife and still love me.”

Best Vacation Spots With Excellent Accessibility

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.

Browse Sensory Products

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 accessible places to vacation.

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 accessible 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 accessible 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 on the autism spectrum 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 accessible vacation spots. 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 on the autism spectrum 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.

Browse Sensory Products

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 beach-goers with disabilities. 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 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 accessible 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 accessible. 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 accessible parking to trailheads and a store accessible by curb ramp, this part of the park is one of the best accessible 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.


Check out “Crip Tales!”

Crip Tales

Here at Enabling Devices, we’re always on the lookout for new films and TV shows with inclusive, diverse casts and realistic portrayals of characters living with disabilities. “Crip Tales,” a new BBC America series is certainly one to watch.

The series, which aired last month in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, was created by British actor, musician and writer Mat Fraser (“American Horror Story,” “His Dark Materials”). It can be viewed online at BBC America.

“I’m so proud and excited to present these wonderful stories for mainstream TV audiences around the world, thanks to BBC America and BBC Studios,” said Fraser in a press release. “The authentic voices, taut direction and shining performances combine to make a series of diverse and dramatic monologues that are compelling, refreshing, and above all, entertaining.”

The first season of “Crip Tales” encompasses six fictional short films largely written and performed by individuals with disabilities and based on research about the disabilities community in Great Britain. Each monologue focuses on a defining moment in the character’s life.

Fraser, who has thalidomide-induced phocomelia, a birth defect that causes his arms to be short and close to his torso, performs the first monologue, in which he describes the ordeal of auditioning with a disability. Simultaneously poignant and humorous, the monologue pokes fun at the discomfort of casting agents, directors and producers when a disabled actor shows up for an audition.

In episode 2 — “Paper Knickers” — performed by Jackie Hagan — a young woman must decide whether to follow her doctor’s advice to have her leg amputated. Meanwhile, she obsesses about a new love interest, something everyone can relate to.

Episode 3 — “Thunderbox,” introduces us to a young woman (Ruth Madeley), who becomes pregnant from an encounter at a 1960s music festival. Because of her disability, doctors and her family try to dissuade her from keeping the baby.

“The Shed,” Episode 5, tells the story of a disabled children’s book writer (Carly Houston,) who falls in love with her next-door neighbor. Her caregiver disapproves of the relationship.

Fraser made a point of hiring women actors for most of the show’s episodes since women with disabilities are particularly underrepresented in the entertainment industry. It was also important to him that many of the stories focus on romantic relationships and sexuality, he told Zack Budryk of The Hill, “Media portrayals of disabled people typically depict them as ‘asexual or infantilized sexually’ when nothing could be further from the truth.”

Given his own frustrations as a disabled actor, Fraser made sure that almost everyone involved with the series is a person living with disabilities. “I wanted this to be a wholly disabled experience,” he told Budryk.

Fraser was also intent on making a show that included disabled directors “because of how difficult it can be for disabled directors in particular to get a foot in the door in an inaccessible industry. We haven’t exactly been welcomed by the industry [and] for disabled directors it’s been the hardest shlep of all,” he said.

Though Fraser believes that opportunities for disabled individuals in the entertainment industry are increasing, there is still a long way to go. He hopes that “Crip Tales” will make a difference.

C.A.T.S Hosts Annual HalloWheels Contest and Fundraiser

Hallowheels Contest Super-Girl

Halloween. It’s every kid’s favorite holiday. But who are we kidding? Halloween during the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be the same as Halloween in years past. After all, most families will wisely forego trick-or-treating and Halloween parties to protect their children and themselves from exposure to the coronavirus.

But all’s not lost. HalloWheels, an annual costume design contest and fundraiser sponsored by C.A.T.S (Children’s Assistive Technologies Service), a nonprofit organization in Virginia, will still take place — though with some alterations (pun intended).

Founded in 2014 by Cathie Cummins, a retired pediatric physical therapist, C.A.T.S. provides free gently used pediatric rehabilitation equipment and assistive technology for children with disabilities who reside in Virginia. The program is all about families helping families.

“Cathie created a re-use program that started out of her garage and it’s grown to three locations— Roanoke, Hampton Roads and Richmond [Virginia] and it serves the whole state,” says John Naples, senior program manager at C.A.T.S Roanoke location.

“Adaptive equipment for children is expensive — even more expensive than adaptive equipment for adults,” Naples says. “That’s because children are all different sizes. A 2-year-old can’t use the same equipment as a 5-year-old.” As children grow, their families must keep purchasing new equipment and many can’t afford that he explains. “Cathie wanted all children to have the adaptive equipment they need.”

For the past five years, HalloWheels has brought joy to children who use wheelchairs and their families by asking volunteer teams to design costumes that incorporate the wheelchairs into the Halloween costumes. Members of the public pledge donations to the nonprofit when they vote for their favorite costumes.

In previous (read: pre-Covid) years, Naples says volunteer teams made up of students from local colleges created the costumes. “The kids really enjoy working with the students,” he says. “Last year was the best one ever. We expanded into four locations and the contests were happening all at the same time.” In 2019, recalls Naples, the winning team was comprised of students from the University of Lynchburg who created a [wheelchair-based] motorcycle for a child who dressed up as Captain America.

This year, 16 individual families will create costumes for their children using materials supplied by C.A.T.S with virtual assistance from the organization and its volunteer partners. While everyone who competes will receive a prize of at least $100, the first prize winner will receive a $750 gift certificate and the second prize winner will receive a $500 gift certificate donated by Enabling Devices that can be used to purchase products from the company.

“We are so thrilled to be able to support such a wonderful and creative endeavor,” says Enabling Devices President and CEO Seth Kanor. “We wish all of our customers, the happiest of Halloweens.”

Voting will take place beginning on October 26 through midnight on November 1!  Each dollar donated is one vote for your favorite costume! Click here to submit your vote.

Mental Health in the Age of COVID-19

Face masked person

May 1 marks the 71st annual observation of Mental Health Month. According to nonprofit Mental Health America, “While 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, everyone faces challenges in life that can impact their mental health.”

Perhaps this has never been more accurate than in the age of COVID-19. These days, we are surrounded by illness and death, fearful of contracting the virus, concerned about our financial well-being and physically isolated from friends, family and colleagues. What’s more, we have no idea how long the current situation will last. Is it any wonder that many of us are finding it difficult to cope?

For people with disabilities and their families, the circumstances presented by the pandemic can be even more challenging. One reason is that people with disabilities are already more susceptible to mental illness. For example, Healthline reports that “depression and suicidal ideation are more likely among people with disabilities due to factors like abuse, isolation, and stressors related to poverty, among others.”

Many of these factors are magnified during the current crisis. What can you do to take care of your mental health or the mental health of your loved ones during this time? Here are some suggestions:

Maintain connections
With schools, community centers, and vocational programs closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many of the social avenues that individuals with disabilities typically enjoy are unavailable. But physical distance need not mean lack of connection. Many organizations continue to offer virtual classes, activities and tele-therapy sessions through Zoom, FaceTime or other virtual platforms. Though not as satisfying as in-person meetings, these opportunities for human connection are surprisingly comforting during this time.

Stick to a routine
People with intellectual disabilities and autism are especially sensitive to disruptions in their routines. Though we can’t pretend our lifestyles haven’t changed, keeping bedtimes, mealtimes, chores and other household activities as close to normal as possible will make life more predictable and less stressful for family members who crave consistency.

Practice self-care
Whether you’re living with disabilities and mental health challenges or caring for someone else with those challenges, it’s more important than ever to take good care of yourself. If at all possible, make sure you are eating healthy foods, getting adequate amounts of sleep, exercising regularly and reaching out to your networks.

Find something to look forward to
If you’re home with your family, come up with at least one event each day that’s a pick-me-up. Whether it’s a specially prepared meal, family game, story hour or movie night, anticipating something cheerful can help you get through this trying time. If you live alone, start a virtual book club, play online games with friends, or start a new hobby.

Take a break from the virus
It’s important to stay abreast of developments related to the coronavirus, but it’s arguably more important to protect your mental health. Listening to copious amounts of news coverage can be scary, depressing and sometimes enraging. Limit your news intake, and minimize COVID-related conversations, especially around children who may find them alarming.

Enjoy springtime
May is one of most beautiful months of the year, and enjoying flowers, warm breezes and sunshine go a long way toward improving our moods. When the weather’s good, spend time outdoors, take socially distant walks and appreciate the wonders of the natural world.

Ask for help
If life becomes overwhelming for you or your loved one, and particularly if you or your loved one has thoughts of hurting him or herself, don’t wait. Reach out to your therapist or contact one of these helplines:

SAMSHA: 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

For COVID-19 related questions: Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Six Ways to Stay Safe When Complete Social Distancing Isn’t an Option

social distancing

We’ve all heard that “social distancing” is an important part of containing the spread of the COVID-19, the new coronavirus. But maintaining a distance of at least six feet away from another individual is impossible when that individual is your caregiver. Many people with disabilities rely on a caregiver outside of their household to help them with eating, bathing, walking, toileting and dressing. So what’s the best way to stay healthy in these instances? Here’s what some of the experts recommend:

1. Educate yourself about COVID-19 prevention
Be aware of the symptoms of COVID-19, and contact your health care provider if you believe you or a loved one has contracted the virus. Stay abreast of recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization for protecting yourself and others from contracting the virus.

2. Contact your home health care provider
If your caregiver works for a health care agency, Easter Seals New Jersey advises you to contact “their representatives and find out more about what precautions they are taking to ensure their staff is following proper protocols to ensure they do not spread the disease.”

3. Be assertive
Don’t shy away from conversations regarding home and personal hygiene. Make sure your provider is observing guidelines for handwashing and disinfecting surfaces and equipment. If your provider has access to masks and gloves, insist that they wear them. Have your provider use a different bathroom if possible. These actions will help to protect both of you.

4. Take extra measures to protect yourself and your caregiver
New Mobility.com advises wheelchair users to “regularly disinfect surfaces, especially those that are regularly touched. High-concentration (70%) ethanol alcohol mixtures, hydrogen peroxide and bleach are all effective disinfectants. Manual wheelchair users, especially those at higher risk of severe symptoms due to secondary complications, should consider regularly disinfecting their push rims. Bleach wipes are easy and effective.”

5. Hold residential facilities to enhanced standards
If you or your loved one resides in a group home, nursing facility, etc., make sure they are following recommended protocols such as: enhanced cleanliness; no visitation; staggered meal times, daily temperature taking and cancellation of group activities.

6. Have a back-up plan
If your caregiver becomes ill and is unable to come to work, be sure to have a back-up plan in place ahead of time. This is easier said than done, acknowledges New Mobility. Some solutions to consider include: asking friends or family members to help where they can; obtaining the proper supplies and training to complete certain tasks by yourself; and making others aware of your medical status and health care needs in case of an emergency.

Stay well!

Free Wheeling

Man in a AdvenChair hiking

If you, or your loved one uses a wheelchair you’re well-aware that accessibility is a major concern. Wheelchair users face many impediments when it comes to accessing restaurants, hotels, stores, transportation, historic sites and even city streets.

Wheelchair users who love the outdoors also face obstacles. In recent years, accessible trails and nature facilities have become more common, yet many wheelchairs aren’t designed to handle rugged terrains. Enter: wheelchair user, outdoorsman and athlete Geoff Babb. Babb, who lost the ability to walk after a near-fatal brain stem stroke in 2005, has invented a prototype for an all-terrain wheelchair he calls the AdvenChair.

After his stroke, Babb, formerly a fire ecologist for the Bureau of Land Management, was anxious to get back to his outdoor activities. Yet he found that his wheelchair wasn’t up to the task. He surveyed the all-terrain wheelchairs on the market but found that none of them met his needs. So, with the help of Dale Neubauer, a friend and helicopter mechanic, Babb “modified his regular wheelchair to give it beefier tires, a detachable front wheel, handbrakes on the handlebar, and a harness that would allow a small team to guide him up and down steep terrain,” according to AdvenChair.com.

The adapted wheelchair worked well, enabling Babb and his family to hike sites including Oregon’s Smith Rock State Park, Mt. Bachelor, Crater Lake and Mt. Rainier national parks. But in 2016, when he attempted to hike the Grand Canyon in the chair, it fell apart soon after departure. Not one to give up easily, Babb, his wife Yvonne, Neubauer, and computer-aided designer Jack Arnold went back to the drawing board where they developed the AdvenChair 2.0. The new chair is made from mountain bike parts, not wheelchair parts. This makes it more “durable” and “less expensive,” Arnold told NPR.

According to the AdvenChair website, the newly designed chair has “an adjustable sit-ski seat, adjustable handlebars, larger 27.5-inch mountain bike wheels and high-grade aluminum mountain bike components throughout.” The chair is “human-powered” (not motorized) and can be navigated by one to five people, says the website. It can handle rocky, soft or hilly terrain and its removable front wheels makes it easy for the chair to maneuver through doorways. It is easily dissembled and can be transported by car.

In 2017, when the AdvenChair 2.0 was in development, Babb suffered a second life-threatening stroke —12 years to the date of his first. After the debilitating stroke, Babb had to re-learn to swallow, chew and use his right hand. But it didn’t weaken his resolve to get the AdvenChair on (well off) the road. Currently, Babb and his team are fundraising so that they can bring the AdvenChair to market.

Babb says the effort is “not just for me, but for the millions of people around the world with limited mobility, and even more limited one-dimensional chairs.”

The Joffrey Ballet Company Presents Inclusive “Nutcracker”

Two ballerinas with disabilities

It’s “Nutcracker season” — the time of the year when ballet companies around the world entertain audiences with performances of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s classic Christmas ballet, “The Nutcracker.”

First performed in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1892, “The Nutcracker” didn’t become a holiday custom in the United States until the mid-20th century. The two-act ballet tells the story of a young girl and her favorite Christmas gift — a nutcracker who comes to life on Christmas Eve.

This season, the elite, Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet’s “Nutcracker” will include roles for Emma Lookatch and Larke Johnson, two young dancers with cerebral palsy, from the Joffrey’s adaptive dance program. The program serves students with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, down syndrome and other disabilities.

The inclusion of a dancer with a disability isn’t really new to the Joffrey’s “Nutcracker.” The company’s former artistic director Gerald Arpino first created a role for a dancer with a disability in 1997 after 8-year-old Stephen Hiatt-Leonard, who has cerebral palsy, auditioned for the ballet’s children’s cast.

Emma and Larke aren’t really new to “The Nutcracker” either. Both danced in the Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” production in 2015 — the last year that the Joffrey performed company founder Robert Joffrey’s version of “The Nutcracker.”

In 2016, the Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” was re-envisioned by Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Wheeldon’s version is set at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair), twenty years after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Wheeldon’s “Nutcracker” also portrays a family and community markedly different than the ones in the traditional “Nutcracker.”

As described by WTTW’s Hedy Weiss: “… rather than focusing on the Christmas celebrations of the usual well-to-do family historically at the ballet’s center (whether set in Europe or, as in the long-lived version by Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, in an upscale Victorian-era New York household), it focused on the community of cash-strapped immigrant artisans and laborers who lived and worked in the shadow of the fair.”

Emma and Larke will share the role of “Worker Girl,” a character who appears in Act 1 during the ballet’s iconic Christmas Eve party scene. The teens will dance in a late nineteenth century-era wheelchair.

Suzanne Lopez, who danced in Robert Joffrey’s version of “The Nutcracker” for 20 years, is now in charge of “The Nutcracker’s” children’s cast. Speaking with the Chicago Tribune recently, Lopez said Wheeldon “absolutely loved the idea [of bringing in dancers from the adaptive dance program] and thought it was a lovely way to honor the legacy of Joffrey and Arpino. … Also,” added Lopez, “this particular version of ‘The Nutcracker’ is so much about community. What better representation than that, that people come to the theater and look up on stage and everybody feels represented?”

Club 1111 Offers Nightlife to Those Living with Disability

Girl with Disability Dancing with her Mother

Almost everyone enjoys a night on the town. But for adults with disabilities, finding a safe, inclusive, accessible venue for music, dancing, socializing and romance can be a challenge.

Club 1111 in Baltimore, Md., makes the elements of a vibrant nightlife accessible to all. The only nightclub for individuals with special needs in Maryland, Club 1111 is also believed to be the only one of its kind in the United States!

On the second Saturday of every month, The League for Disability’s Baltimore headquarters is converted into a nightclub. According to the Baltimore Sun’s Yvonne Wenger, “the classrooms become dance floors with disc jockeys playing pounding club music. Merchandise, like sunglasses and blinking rings, is stacked up and ready to be sold, and volunteers wait in a makeshift spa to do fingernails and put on temporary tattoos. A lounge with dim lights is set up for chilling.”

A program of The League for Disabilities, a nonprofit that offers a variety of support services including day treatment, vocational training, camping and recreation, Club 1111 began as a fundraiser in 2015. As news of the club spread across Maryland, the crowds grew. Some nights as many as 700 people from all over the state visit Club 1111. Admission is $10 per person but caregivers and accompanying family members are admitted free.

According to Wenger, “most club-goers have intellectual and developmental disabilities, about a quarter use a wheelchair and roughly one in 10 have visual impairment.”

At Club 1111, adults with disabilities report that they feel free to be themselves, without fear of stigma or judgment. Those with medical or behavioral challenges, their families and caregivers can feel comfortable knowing that a nurse and behaviorist onsite at Club 1111 can intervene should an emergency arise.

“Hallways and doorways are wide enough for wheelchairs,” writes Wenger. “The flashing lights on the dance floor are programmed with the advice of a neurologist so they won’t trigger seizures. Sodas come in plastic cups with lids and flexible straws so they’re easy to drink and won’t be spilled.”

Ideally, The League for Disabilities would like to see people who live with disabilities engaged in a fully inclusive society. Yet, obstacles remain, particularly when it comes to socialization at bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Many aren’t wheelchair accessible and don’t have accessible restrooms. As one woman from the U.K. told Amelia Abraham of Vice, “I’ve got disabled friends who tell me they weren’t let into nightclubs because they were leaning on friends and the bouncers thought they were too drunk. Or because staff says people in wheelchairs are a health and safety violation, like their chairs are going to create an issue if there’s a fire.”

Said a man interviewed by Vice’s Abraham: When a club has no access, you feel hugely rejected, all the while knowing your friends are having fun without you.”

At Club 1111, these issues don’t exist. It’s hard to understand why more organizations and businesses don’t open nightclubs geared toward the needs of people with disabilities. Hopefully articles in publications like the Baltimore Sun and Vice, and blogposts like this, will raise awareness about the need for them.

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 to introduce 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. Campakeela.com

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. Eastersealscamps.org

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. Whisperingwinds.org

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. Ramah.poconos.org

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)



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!