(518) 792-3537 Queensbury • (518) 584-8202 Ballston Spa SAIL@SAILhelps.org

Opening the Doors of Opportunity

Disabled Doesn’t Mean Unable

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. Within the Act is section VII which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on an individual’s race, color, religion, or national origin.  The signing of this act also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on July 2, 1965, to eliminate unlawful job discrimination through the enforcement of Title VII.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990.
Retrieved from: https://adata.org/ada-timeline

On September 15, 2010, the US Department of Justice published revised regulations for Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These regulations adopted enforceable accessibility standards called the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which set minimum requirements (”both scoping and technical”) for newly designed and constructed or altered state and local government facilities, public accommodations, and commercial facilities to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

This history led up to what should have been a breakthrough in opportunities for the disabled and also a boost for the business world as well. Now in the U.S. as we appear to be getting Covid under control and attempting to bring our communities back to some kind of normality, and businesses begin to reopen and looking for employees, it seems to be a good time to take a serious look at our nation’s underutilized workforce.

Cornell University published the 2018 Disability Status Report and found among working-age people (ages 21 to 64), 185,763,800 individuals in the U.S. that 19,338,800 non-institutionalized people reported having one or more disabilities.

 Another highlight in the report, on page 35, uncovered that full-time employment among the non-disabled working-age group was at 61.1%, as compared to the 24.3% employment rate among the working-age group with disabilities. An additional statistic from this report states 32.0% of working-age people with a disability have some college or an Associate’s degree whereas the percent among non-disabled working-age people was 30.9%.

Why Don’t Employers Hire People With Disabilities

Many of us may not realize or be aware of the prevalence of people living with disabilities in the United States. According to the Invisible Disabilities Association: “there are probably more people living with disabilities in the United States than people realize”, and the association also states: “If people with disabilities were a formally recognized minority group, at 19% of the population, they would be the largest minority group in the United States.”

A 2021 News Release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found: “Across all age groups, persons with disabilities were less likely to be employed than those with no disabilities.”

In looking at these facts and figures, the next logical question should be, why? There is any number of reasons that one can find on the internet, but as someone who advocates for the disabled, there seems to be a lack of familiarity. There appears to be a missing component in the general understanding of what it means to be disabled, and especially to be an employee with a disability. We are far removed from the days of the disabled being circus freaks or considered evil, monsters, or wicked. The US Department of Labor (DOL) reminds us: “The foundation for the ADA is America’s promise of equal access to opportunity for all citizens.”

The DOL also found: “Being inclusive of people with disabilities – in recruitment, retention, promotion, and in providing an accessible environment – gives businesses a competitive edge.” Below is a list of some of the common myths about how the ADA affects employers along with some research and facts retrieved directly from the DOL website.

Myth: The ADA forces employers to hire unqualified individuals with disabilities.

Fact: Applicants who are unqualified for a job cannot claim discrimination under the ADA. Under the ADA, to be protected from discrimination in hiring, an individual with a disability must be qualified, which means he or she must meet all requirements for a job and be able to perform its essential functions with or without reasonable accommodations.

Myth: When there are several qualified applicants for a job and one has a disability, the ADA requires the employer to hire that person.

Fact: An employer is always free to hire the applicant of its choosing as long as the decision is not based on disability. If two people apply for a data entry position for which both speed and accuracy are required, the employer may hire the person with the higher speed and level of accuracy, because he or she is the most qualified.

Myth: The ADA gives job applicants with disabilities advantages over job applicants without disabilities.

Fact: The ADA does not give hiring preference to persons with disabilities.

Myth: Under the ADA, employers must give people with disabilities special privileges, known as accommodations.

Fact: Reasonable accommodations are intended to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have rights in employment equal — not superior — to those of individuals without disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a modification to a job, work environment or the way work is performed that allows an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform the essential functions of the job, and enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace.

Myth: Providing accommodations for people with disabilities is expensive.

Fact: The majority of workers with disabilities do not need accommodations to perform their jobs, and for those who do, the cost is usually minimal. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, 58% of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500. Moreover, tax incentives are available to help employers cover the costs of accommodations, as well as modifications required to make their businesses accessible to persons with disabilities.

Myth: The ADA places a financial burden on small businesses that cannot afford to make accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

Fact: Businesses with fewer than 15 employees are not covered by the employment provisions of the ADA. Moreover, a covered employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation that would cause an “undue hardship.” Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an organization’s size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation.

Myth: ADA lawsuits are flooding the courts.

Fact: The majority of ADA employment-related disputes are resolved through informal negotiation or mediation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the ADA’s employment provisions, carefully investigates the merits of each case and offers many alternatives to litigation as a way to resolve any potential problem. The number of ADA employment-related cases, whether filed privately or by the EEOC, represents a tiny percentage of the millions of employers in the U.S.

Myth: The ADA is frequently misused by people with vague complaints or diagnoses.

Fact: If an individual files a complaint of discriminatory treatment, denial of accommodation, or harassment under the ADA and does not have a condition that meets its definition of disability, the complaint is dismissed. While claims by people with false or minor conditions may get considerable media attention, the reality is that these complaints are usually dismissed.

Myth: The ADA protects employees who have difficult or rude personalities or are troublemakers.

Fact: Improper behavior in and of itself does not constitute a disability, and having a disability does not excuse employees from performing essential job tasks and following the same conduct standards required of all employees. The courts have consistently ruled that “common sense” conduct standards, such as getting along with co-workers and listening to supervisors, are legitimate job requirements that employers can enforce equally among all employees.

Myth: Under the ADA, an employer cannot fire an employee who has a disability.

Fact: Employers can fire workers with disabilities under three conditions:

  • The termination is unrelated to the disability or
  • The employee does not meet legitimate requirements for the job, such as performance or production standards, with or without a reasonable accommodation or
  • Because of the employee’s disability, he or she poses a direct threat to health or safety in the workplace.
Reasonable Accommodations symbols
Retrieved from: https://abilityjobs.com/job-seekers-resources/

Reasonable Accommodations

 
Employers must provide reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities and the accommodations are at the expense of the employer. The ADA Network defines reasonable accommodations as “any change to the application or hiring

process, to the job, to the way the job is done, or the work environment that allows a person with a disability who is qualified for the job to perform the essential functions of that job and enjoy equal employment opportunities. Accommodations are considered reasonable if they do not create an undue hardship or a direct threat.”

For an employee to qualify for a position and accommodation, the applicant must be able to perform the essential duties of the position available. The applicant must have a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities. The employer can request medical documentation by a physician to support the accommodation if a disability is not visible.

As reported by JAN, 59 percent of accommodations cost the employer nothing, while the remaining accommodations had a typical cost of only $500 and most employers report this cost has more than paid for itself many times over.

To determine the type of accommodation, the employer must consider the request made by the applicant or employee with the disability and assess if it is a reasonable request and the way this will affect the ability to perform their job and any impact on the environment they will be working in. Some examples of reasonable accommodations might be,

  • Provide a reserved parking space
  • Access to the work area
  • Provide an aid or a service to improve access
  • Alternative formats of presentations, test and training materials
  • Allow a flexible work schedule
  • Allow for flexible lunches and breaks
  • Allow employees’ service animals at the job

Both the employer and employee should be participants in determining the most effective accommodation. It’s important to remember, reasonable accommodations are not to provide an advantage they are meant to level the playing field, to create opportunity for everyone.

The ADA, under federal law, protects employees with disabilities from discrimination and harassment at the workplace. Harassment occurs when coworkers, a supervisor, or even third parties subject an employee to unwelcome actions, comments, or conduct because of the employee’s disability.

Reasons Why Employers Should Hire People With Disabilities

For businesses large and small the driving force behind their success is employees. People with disabilities make up a large untapped talented resource who are not always given a fair chance.

The hiring of workers with a disability can bring to a business financial, legal, and social benefits which have been overlooked. Below are some of the reasons hiring from this talent pool can build your business reputation for being a fair and inclusive employer, a non-discriminating workplace while boosting customers, increasing your bottom line, and gaining a competitive advantage.

Benefit of Hiring Employees with Disabilities

  1. Everyone Benefits: When we shift the focus to an employee’s ability, everyone benefits, from management to front line workers to customers.
  2. Job Retention: Many workers with disabilities demonstrate a high degree of loyalty, often remaining with employers for years, reducing turnover and adding stability to the workforce.
  3. Untapped Labor Pool: Employees with disabilities can ease concerns about labor shortages.  Employees with disabilities often show up with positive, can-do attitude and take great pride in their work.
  4. Increased Profits: Many employer who have hired workers with disabilities have seen a positive impact on their bottom line. Diverse work groups can create better solutions to business challenges.
  5. Return of Investment: Studies have concluded that for each dollar spent on reasonable accommodations, business gain $10-$35 in benefits.
  6. Tax Incentives: Business me be eligible for tax incentives such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, Disabled Access Credit, and Architectural/Transportation Barrier Removal Tax Deduction.
  7. Performance: Research shows no job performance difference between employees with disabilities and their non-disabled colleagues.  Employers report that employees with disabilities motivate co-workers leading to increased productivity.
  8. Customer Loyalty: Research shows that employing people with disabilities taps into a growing market of customers with disabilities, $220 billion in discretionary spending each year. Further, 92% of customers reflect favorably on businesses known to hire people with disabilities, with 87% preferring to do business with these companies.
  9. Employee Engagement: Employers report that having employees with disabilities contributes to improved morale and productivity. 80% of employers state employees with disabilities are as productive as any other employee.
  10. Dependability and Flexibility: Studies have shown that employees with disabilities have lower rates of absenteeism and will often “step up to the plate” to take on new tasks, assist co-workers, or fill in when needed.

Source and for more information: https://www.adainfo.org/training/top-reasons-hire-applicant-disability-10-5-16

Summary

In his book Hidden Talent, Mark Lengnick-Hall concludes by writing: “Hiring and retaining people with disabilities is a win-win-win solution to a number of problems.” Mr. Lengnick-Hall continues to list three examples:

  1. “Many people with disabilities want to work but currently are unemployed. They want to work for the same reasons that non-disabled people want to work: to obtain income, to support themselves and their families, to get the satisfaction that can be derived from a job and a career, and to make contributions to organizations and society.
  2. Employers need the best talent available to compete effectively in a global economy. Capitalizing on a source of good employees could make the difference between success and failure in the marketplace.
  3. Society is better off when more people with disabilities are able to find productive work. People with disabilities then pay taxes, have more income to purchase goods and services and reduce their dependency on taxpayer-supported assistance programs.

Despite the passage of the ADA, much progress has been made for those with disabilities, yet we have not seen these win-win-win solutions. Changes in attitudes towards people with disabilities and understanding of their potential will help to bring about an all-inclusive workplace.

Illustration of a diverse group of employees. Retrieved from:
http://njppc.com/three-things-to-promote-digital-inclusion-that-wont-cost-the-earth/


Works Cited

United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. (2010). Information and Technical Assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved from: https://www.ada.gov/2010ADAstandards_index.htm

ILR School, Cornell University. (2020). 2018 Disability Status Report – United States. Retrieved from: https://www.disabilitystatistics.org/StatusReports/2018-PDF/2018-StatusReport_US.pdf

Job Accommodation Network, (JAN). (2021). A to Z of Disabilities and Accommodations.
Retrieved from: https://askjan.org/

United States Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, (2021). Employers and The ADA: Myths and Facts. Retrieved from: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/publications/fact-sheets/americans-with-disabilities-act

ADA, National Network. (2021). Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace. Retrieved from: https://adata.org/factsheet/reasonable-accommodations-workplace

Invisible Disabilities Association. (2020). People with Disabilities are the Largest Minority Group in the US. Retrieved from: https://invisibledisabilities.org/coping-with-invisible-disabilities/disability-benefits/disabilities-largest-minority-group-us/

Disabled Persons, Inc. (2021). What Is Considered a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans With Disabilities Act in 2020? Retrieved from: https://www.disabledperson.com/blog/posts/what-is-considered-a-reasonable-accommodation-under-the-americans-with-disabilities-act-in-2020?keyword=ada%20act&matchtype=b&adposition=&device=c&network=g&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIg9fM-vuy8AIVXAaICR0uNAb-EAAYBCAAEgJj7PD_BwEg7gclid=

Mid-Atlantic ADA Center and TransCen, Inc. (2021). Top Reasons To Hire An Applicant With A Disability. Retrieved from: https://www.adainfo.org/training/top-reasons-hire-applicant-disability-10-5-16

Guerin, Lisa, J.D. (2021). When Is Disability Harassment Illegal? Retrieved from: https://www.disabilitysecrets.com/resources/when-is-disability-harassment-illegal.html

U.S. Department of Labor. (2020). Disability & Employment: A Timeline. Commemorating 30 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved from: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/ada30/timeline

Smith, Arina. (2018). 7 Awesome Benefits of Hiring Disabled Workers for Your Small Business. Retrieved from: https://realwealthbusiness.com/awesome-benefits-hiring-disabled-workers-small-business/

U.S.,Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2021). The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008. Retrieved from: https://www.eeoc.gov/statutes/americans-disabilities-act-amendments-act-2008

Additional Information

EARN Employer Assistance Resource Network on Disability Inclusion https://askearn.org/topics/creating-an-accessible-and-welcoming-workplace/physical-accessibility/

You have the responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations.
https://www.employer.gov/employmentissues/Workplace-inclusion/Reasonable-accommodations-for-disabilities/

The University of New Hampshire, Institute on Disability/UCED
https://iod.unh.edu/article/2019/11/ntide-october-2019-jobs-report-job-gains-wane-americans-disabilities

U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep

What Is Considered a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans With Disabilities Act in 2020?
https://www.disabledperson.com/blog/posts/what-is-considered-a-reasonable-accommodation-under-the-americans-with-disabilities-act-in-2020

10 Recruitment Tips to Attract People with Disabilities
https://www.miusa.org/resource/tipsheet/recruiting

Information, Guidance, and Training on the Americans with Disabilities Act
https://www.adainfo.org/

ADA Network
https://adata.org

Let’s Play in the Dirt and Get Our Hands Dirty

Sign, Play in the dirt because life is too short to always have clean finger nails.
Retrieved from: https://playwithdirt.blogspot.com

If anyone out there is like me, at this time of year my feelings are “O.K. winter I’ve had enough!” In my younger days I loved winter, but a lot of physical abuse leading to the onset of Arthritis and two knee replacements, it seems winter activities suddenly have far less appeal. So now in my so-called “Golden Years”, between being shut-in due to covid, reduced sunlight, and cold temperatures, the switch to daylight savings time and the slowly increasing of daytime temperatures bring about almost a feeling of euphoria.

As the world around us begins to awaken and renew itself, the warmer weather draws many people back outside to enjoy the fresh air.  As for myself, thoughts turn from dealing with snow and ice to the beginnings of planning my summer garden.

Our grocery stores now sell an enormous array of fruits and vegetables, but the majority of supermarkets today now carry plants and cut flowers. So what’s the big deal about playing in the dirt? What makes it worthwhile?

Gardening for Seniors

I remember my grandparents spending much of their summertime efforts and time in their gardens. Thinking back I also remember the pleasure it seemed to bring to them.  Seedlings on the window sills in spring to canning in the fall occupied a large portion of their lives, and they enjoyed it.

I have since learned there were considerably more benefits to them than just a use of time. In her Senior Living blog, Alissa Sauer writes about the “Benefits of Gardening for Seniors” she writes that she has found “5 Ways Gardening Boosts Senior Health”

  1. “Gardens Lowers Stress” I have always believed gardening relieving stress, weeding, although most gardeners hate it, in particular, can be relaxing. Sauer reports: “Studies have found that garden can lower levels of cortisol which can alleviate stress and even reduce high blood pressure.”
  2. “Gardening Increases Serotonin” For emotional well-being, gardening produces a feeling of self-satisfaction, a calmness, and a feeling of peace which in turn reduces any feelings of depression. Sauer reports: “One study found that contact with certain bacteria in soil triggers the release of serotonin in the brain and work as a natural anti-depressant.” This might explain why horticulture therapy is a growing form of therapy for people with depression and other forms of mental illness and has been showing positive results.
  3. “Gardening Boosts Heart Health and Reduces the Risk of Stroke” As a moderately intense exercise, gardening can be counted as part of the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise. Studies have reported routine gardening can reduce the risk of heart attack and by as much as 30% for people over 60. Being outside has also shown to increase vitamin D levels and it has been suggested this can also help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
  4. “Garden Increases Mobility” Not only is gardening a great form of exercise, but it is also a terrific way to engage lesser-used muscle helping to increase flexibility and rebuilding strength.
  5. “Gardening May Boost Brain Health” No one knows the cause of Alzheimer’s and how to prevent the disease, research has shown that positive life choices may play a role in decreasing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s and gardening seems to be one of those positive lifestyle choices. Gardening has been shown to engage essential life functions such as dexterity, endurance, sensory awareness, and problem-solving. According to Sauer: “Studies have found that gardening can reduce the risk of dementia by as much as 36%.”

Meaningful Hobby

Having a garden, as well as being beneficial for seniors in general, seems to have positive effects on those living with Alzheimer’s. A well-designed garden can provide several benefits, and as Christine Kennard writes: “It can be part of an Alzheimer’s treatment plan for those who are very restless or agitated and like, or need, to walk a lot.”

Kennard lists the flowing benefits”

  • “Provides physical exercise, opportunity to relieve tension, frustration, and aggression”
  • “Offers a meaningful activity”
  • “Allows the person with dementia to take care of flowers and other plants”
  • “Provides personal space for reflection and privacy”
  • “Provides time outdoors in a safe place”
  • Provides stimulation with color, smells and sounds of wildlife”

Gardens for the Disabled

With a little bit of consideration and planning, it is possible to create a pleasant, productive garden for people with disabilities. The health benefits can provide a source of socialization, stimulation, exercise, feelings of reward, and relaxation.

Gardens for people with disabilities can help to advance:

  • Communication and social skills, by having involvement in an activity with another
  • Fitness, maintaining  a garden can be a rewarding physical activity
  • Motor skills or physical ability have the potential of improving through planting and caring for a garden
  • Stress levels, gardening is a great way to relax and bring about feelings of contentment
  • Learning and new knowledge-gardening provide the opportunity to expand one’s knowledge of nature and the environment as well as increasing knowledge of nutrition and healthy foods.
  • New skills, gardening develops a variety of new skills leading to confidence
  • Enjoyment, a garden is wonderful for breaking up daily routines and is a leisurely task providing a change in day-to-day activities.

Children with Autism

They are numerous benefit to being outdoors and for parents of a child with autism, it gives everyone a break and to enjoy the fresh air, nature and the chance to put down the tech and see insects and flowers and learn about the environment.

In an article on the autismjourney website, Edward Sloane comments: “for children with autism, gardening has some benefits,” and below is Sloane list of how gardening can help:

“It can encourage positive behavior”
Many of those within the autism spectrum have difficulties keeping their emotions in check, thus parents and support people find their behavior out of control, and these supporters struggle to find ways to enhance positive behavior.

Sloane finds: “Having gardening as a hobby is a great way to encourage them to show positive behavior.” Sloane finds: “It puts their focus and attention on planting and tending to the flowers, It helps to cut bad behavior as they enjoy working outside in the garden. You will soon notice an improvement in their behavior when they  spend time gardening with family and friends.”

“It teaches the child to cooperate and work with others”
Socialization is an important part of working with those dealing with autism. Sloane believes: “Gardening is a great way to help them to communicate as they have to speak to others while gardening. They can work with someone else to dig and plant the flowers, Even gardening with a parent or close friend will give them a chance to build on their socialization skills.”

“It is a quiet and calm hobby in a safe environment”
Noisy unfamiliar environments for those with autism,  it can be challenging to control their behavior, they can become withdrawn and shy. Having gardening as a hobby provides them with an environment they soon learn to know and provides a place where they feel safe and secure, they can find quiet solitude in the familiar surroundings of their garden.

“It will help them follow instructions”
Another challenge for children of the autism spectrum is following instructions. Focusing on one task and then shift to another can be problematic, gardening is a great way to exercise the skills needed to follow instructions. Through gardening they learn the steps to build a successful garden, they receive the rewards of doing a good job by following instructions.

”It can teach them responsibility and leadership”
Through gardening, those with autism develop responsibility skills while being relied on for the day-to-day tending of the garden. The routine of watering and weeding and being sure the garden is well cared for helps them to understand the concept of responsibility and adds to leadership skills by taking charge of the garden maintenance.

“It helps them put their motor skills into practice”
For those on the spectrum who are faced with the inconvenience of difficulties with fine motor skills in their daily life, gardening can help to control movements. The repetitive motions needed to dig, plant, water, weed, and use garden tools provide practice to improve control eye-hand coordination skills.

Gardens and the Visually Impaired

Sensory Garden with Aromatic flowers
retrieved from: https://www.chicagobotanic.org/gardens/sensory

There is something about spring, the warmth of the sun on your face, the sounds of returning wildlife and the sweet smells of the new foliage come back to life. These are all sensory experiences that we all enjoy. Even with declining vision, other senses take over enhancing the experience of spring and the pleasure of gardening.

Building a sensory garden for people with visual impairment requires some important considerations: 

  • The number one most important requirement for a sensory garden is safety. What is critical for those with visual difficulties is navigation. Straight paths need railing and texture changes for changes in topography. Avoid plants, bushes, and flowers with thorns. Also, avoid plants that may be poisonous if accidentally ingested, or those that could cause an allergic reaction, as with poison ivy or poison oak.
  • The fragrance is a critical aspect of a sensory garden. Many people with visual impairments can have a heightened sense of smell and over-powering fragrances can be unpleasant. Selecting plants with less intense scents can produce a more pleasurable experience and greater interest. Selecting plant varieties with subtle sents such as chocolate cosmos, honeysuckle, carnations, chamomile, daphne, and gardenias can be used to help visually impaired visitors find their way around the garden.
  • Touch and taste add another sensory encounter to enhance the garden. Pussy willow and wooly thyme chenille can provide a tactile variation, while nasturtiums, hibiscus, mints, herbs and spices, berries, fruit trees, and of course vegetables are all great additions for the garden explorers.
  • A sensory garden would not be complete without accounting for auditable elements. Windchimes, a water feature such as a relaxing fountain, the chirping sounds of birds at a feeder or birdbath, the buzzing of bees and hummingbirds add to stimulate the sense of sound to the garden experience.

Well Designed Garden
Obviously, from the wide variation in possibilities, a well-designed garden there is not a one size fits all solution. There is a great deal of understanding and considerations to be thought through before ripping up your backyard. For some cases, the safest result may come about by consulting with a professional landscape designer.

For the average gardener, here are a few ideas to start with to begin to create an accessible garden.

  • Raised Planting beds at a comfortable height allowing for gardening without having to bend as far, or raised planting boxes allowing for access to plants at a height compatible with a wheelchair.
  • Garden pathways that are smooth and even without steep gradients or steps and low glare.
  • Pathways should be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.
  • Avoid dark or shadowed areas that can be mistaken as holes by people having problems with sight, or people with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • Seats in a shady area where a person can sit and enjoy the garden on a hot day.
  • Planting beds or planting containers no wider than 2 feet wide, allowing for access on one side.
  • Consider adding a ground cover crop or mulch to reduce the need for weeding.

Care to take While Gardening

Raised Garden Beds

Preparing Your Garden Soil

According to Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the CDC recommends the following of these precautions while you’re gardening:

We are all exposed to a little arsenic every day. The recommendations below are for people who want to keep their exposure to the minimum possible. These recommendations are intended to be on the safe side. Under normal circumstances, a lapse in following these recommendations will not, by itself, lead to health problems.

  • Increase the organic matter in your soil by adding compost or manure from outside sources such as commercial garden centers.
  • Keep soil pH in the near-neutral range (pH 6-7). For a soils test, check with your local agricultural extension office or purchase a soils test kits at a garden center.
  • Maintain adequate levels of plant nutrients by using a balanced commercial fertilizer.
  • Maintain adequate levels of iron in your soil.
  • Consider building a raised-bed garden. Fill it with topsoil and compost from outside sources or areas of your yard that do not have elevated levels of arsenic.

Note: Do not use chromated copper arsenate (CCA)-treated wood to build your raised garden beds. CCA contains arsenic that can leach into your soil. Use a safer nonarsenic pressure-treated wood such as ammoniacal copper quaternary (ACQ). Bricks, stone, or other wood products such as cedar or redwood can be used to build a raised garden bed.

Working in the Garden and Yard

  • Avoid eating or drinking while working in the yard or garden because contaminated soil and dust might get on your food and you could accidentally swallow it.
  • Dampen soils with water before you garden to limit the amount of dust you inhale.
  • Avoid working in the yard on windy days, when dust can be stirred up and possibly increase your exposure.
  • Consider wearing a mask if you spend time in dusty areas.
  • Wash your hands after gardening.
  • Wash work clothes to remove dust and dirt.
  • Take your shoes off at the door to avoid tracking soil into your home.

Preparing Fruits and Vegetables

  • Clean your hands, cutting boards, and kitchen tools with hot, soapy water and rinse well before and after handling your fruits and vegetables.

Soak garden produce in cool water and rinse thoroughly until the water runs clear. Commercial vegetable cleaning products are available in supermarkets to help free soil

  • residues from your produce. These products work well with leafy vegetables. Vinegar can also be used for cleaning produce.
  • Scrub firm fruits and root crops with a vegetable-cleaning brush to remove dust and dirt before peeling or eating.
  • Peel root crops like carrots, rutabagas, radishes, and turnips.
  • Wash berry fruits like strawberries and blackberries, and remove the “caps” (the tops of the berries where the stem and leaves attach).

Buy Some, Grow Some

Eat some fruits and vegetables from your garden and some from the farmer’s market or grocery store. Eating a mix of homegrown and commercial products can help reduce your potential exposure.

Creating Play Areas for Children

  • Fill sandboxes with sand or soil from an outside source such as a commercial gardening center.
  • Cover bare soil with grass or other material such as mulch.
  • Keep children from playing in contaminated soil. The most likely way for children to become exposed to arsenic is from ingesting (eating) dirt.
  • Have children wash hands and faces after they play in the yard.

Cleaning Your Home

  • Remove work and play shoes before entering your house.
  • Damp-mop floors and wipe down counters, tables, and window ledges regularly.
  • To reduce dust levels in the home, consider upgrading your vacuum cleaner bags to those that filter better or simply change your bags more often. Some persons may want to buy a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to better reduce dust levels.
  • Wash the soil from homegrown fruits and vegetables before bringing them into your home.
  • Keep pets out of areas of contaminated soil. Dogs and cats carry contaminated soil on their feet and fur into the home. Bathe your pets frequently.

For more information about ATSDR’s work at Spring Valley, visit our web site at www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/springvalley or contact any of ATSDR’s Spring Valley Team members:

Gardening Ergonomics

Many ergonomic design tools are made to be adaptable for people with disabilities and also to allow seniors with physical limitations to continue enjoying gardening. All of these designs have the enhancement of the gardening experience in mind for everyone.

From plans for raised gardening boxes to pre-built boxes, there seems to be a wide variety of equipment that can easily be found online or in many gardening stores and are available for any gardening enthusiast.

So go out enjoy the warm fresh air and the peaceful pleasure of gardening, no excuses.

Works Cited:

Kennard, Christine. (2020). Planning a Garden for Persons With Alzheimer’s. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellhealth.com/alzheimers-garden-plan-98084

McLendon, Lauria. (2020). 5 WAYS GARDENING BOOSTS SENIOR HEALTH. Retrieved from: https://inletcoastalresort.com/5-ways-gardening-boosts-senior-health/

Sloane, Edward. (2021). The many benefits of gardening for autistic children. Retrieved From: https://autismjourney.org/benefits-gardening-for-children-with-autism/

Sauer, Alissa. (2021). Benefits of Gardening for Seniors. Retrieved from: https://www.leisurecare.com/resources/benefits-of-gardening-for-seniors/

GardenExpert999, Dengarden. (2020). How to Design a Sensory Garden for the Blind or Visually Impaired. Retrieved from: https://dengarden.com/gardening/How-to-Design-a-Sensory-Garden-for-the-Blind-or-Visually-Impaired

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (2015). Tips for Safe Gardening, Safe Play, and a Safe Home. Retrieved from: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/springvalley/svgardening.html

Additional Information:

https://www.ahta.org/

https://www.healinglandscapes.org/ (Therapeutic Landscape Network)

https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/healing-environment/what-are-healing-gardens

https://www.carryongardening.org.uk/tips-on-garden-design-for-all-disabled-gardeners.aspx

https://adata.org/universal-garden

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/special/accessible

https://www.growsonyou.com/gardening/ideas-for-disabled-gardeners

http://www.universaldesignstyle.com/wheelchair-accessible-gardens/ (2013 Wheelchair Accessible)

https://www.ncbg.unc.edu/outreach/horticultural-therapy/

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

During the past year, we have all been learning to cope with the isolation due to the restrictive lifestyle brought about by COVID-19. There is light at the end of the tunnel with the discovery and manufacturing of vaccines, but the medical experts are predicting this will be a long dark winter.

For those who struggle every year with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), this long dark winter is all too familiar.  This long dark winter has both literal and emotional significance.  Combining  SAD with the quarantine due to COVID and the difficulties of receiving a vaccination for the virus, there is potential for additional problems this year.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The staff of the website Psychology Today notes: “Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of recurrent major depressive disorder in which episodes of depression occur during the same season each year. This condition is sometimes called the ‘winter blues,’ because the most common seasonal pattern is for depressive episodes to appear in the fall or winter and remit in the spring. Less commonly, SAD occurs as summer depression, typically beginning in the late spring or early summer and remitting in the fall. SAD may be related to changes in the amount of daylight a person receives.”

It is estimated that roughly about 10 million Americans are influenced by SAD and there are perhaps another 20% of the population who may have a mild form of the condition. It seems women are four times as likely to have the condition as men. “the age of onset is estimated to be between the age of 18 and 30” according to Psychology Today. For many, the symptoms are severe enough to affect the quality of their lives, and about 6% of these have conditions requiring hospitalization.

In her report, Carrie MacMillan of yalemedicine.org comments: “SAD is more common in women and in people who live far from the equator. For example, it affects an estimated 1% of people in Florida and 9% of those in Alaska.” Continuing on MacMillan also reports: “In the Northeast, most studies suggest that SAD, in its most marked form, affects 3 to 5% of the population.” SAD also seems to occur more often in young adults than it does in older adults.

SAD is not only restricted to merely the cold-weather season, but there is also Summer-Onset-affective disorder or summer depression and the symptoms may include:

  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Agitation or anxiety

For those people living with bipolar disorder, there seems to be seasonal changes as well. The Mayo Clinic suggests: “In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), and fall and winter can be a time of depression.”

Causes

The exact cause of SAD is unknown at this time, as mayocinic.org notes, several factors might come into play, and they may include:

  • Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.”
  • Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.”
  • Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.”

Symptoms

Not everyone experiences the same symptoms associated with SAD and making a proper diagnosis will require the assistance of a mental health professional, but below is a list of the most common SAD warning signs to look for:

  • Mood Swings. Feelings of hopelessness and sadness. An energetic person may become lethargic and socially withdrawn.
  • Increased sensitivity to social rejection, and increased anxiety levels leading to a decrease in the ability to tolerate stress. Increased lack of willingness to be seen in public and increased irritability, a refusing to talk. Increased thoughts of suicide.
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Problem with concentration and focus
  • A drop in energy level is a symptom people frequently struggle with. They find it hard to complete simple daily tasks.
  • A heavy feeling in the arms and legs and fatigue.
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

To manage seasonal affective disorder try to:

  • Experience as much daylight as possible. It is thought the lack of sun exposure is part of what causes SAD and soaking up as much sunlight as you can lessen your symptoms.  Sit by a window, or better yet get out for a walk if you can.
  • Eat Healthily. Comfort foods do not have to be loaded with salt, sugar, fat, and lots of unnecessary calories to be enjoyable. There are plenty of other healthier choices out there, be creative, try making a dessert using seasonal fruits. They may surprise you.
  • Spend time with your friends and family. During this pandemic, this has become difficult. Zooming has become very popular with families to stay in touch and to see and visit with one another. This can be an opportunity to hone those computer skills you’ve been putting off. Zooming is not a substitute for personal contact, but it is safer, so stay in touch.
  • Stay Active.  Covid has limited what we can do safely, but there is no reason you can’t go for a walk with a friend or family member or you could go ice skating. Routine exercise has been shown to be effective in lessening the effects of SAD.
  • Seek professional help. If your feelings of depression continue, you might consider seeking professional help such as a psychologist who can best determine if your condition is truly SAD and recommend effective treatment.

Treatment

As with all conditions, self-care is an important aspect of any treatment. As for those with SAD, it is important to:

  • Monitor mood and energy level
  • Take advantage of available sunlight
  • Plan pleasurable activities for the winter season
  • Plan physical activities
  • Approach the winter season with a positive attitude
  • When symptoms develop seek help sooner rather than later

As discussed previously, no one is sure of the cause of this condition, but some believe there may be a connection between the reduction of sunlight in the winter months and the increase in the depression associated with SAD. As a result, it is not uncommon for typical therapy to be a combination of antidepressant medication, vitamin D supplementation, counseling, and some form of light therapy.

Light therapy involves exposure to a bright artificial light that mimics outdoor light. This requires the use of a lightbox or light visor which is worn on the head like a cap and usually takes place first thing in the morning for a prescribed length of time which is generally between 30 and 60 minutes during the fall and winter months. The time varies with each individual and stopping the treatment too soon can bring about the return of the symptoms. The therapy normally continues until springtime as the volume of natural light increases.

When properly administered, there are few if any side effects. The side effects that do arise can include eyestrain, headaches, possible fatigue, or irritability. The inability to sleep has been known to occur if administered too late in the day.

If light therapy does not improve symptoms within a few days, medication and behavioral therapy may be recommended.

Finally, Carrie MacMillan suggests: “In addition to calling your primary care physician or psychologist, if you have one, resources include the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress hotline, 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs; the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 (TTY: 1-800-787-3224); and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, or call 911.”

Works cited:

Cardoza, Kavitha. (2021). ‘Tis The Season: Coping With SAD, Or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2020/10/23/927135639/tis-the-season-coping-with-sad-or-seasonal-affective-disorder

MacMillan, Carrie. (2020). Will COVID-19 Make Seasonal Affective Disorder Worse? Retrieved from: https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/covid-19-seasonal-affective-disorder-sad

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)-Symptoms and causes. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

Unknown. (2020). Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder

Additional Information:

National Alliance of Mental Illness
https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml

National Institute of Mental Health

National Mental Health Association

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

National Environmental Education Foundation
https://www.neefusa.org/weather-and-climate/weather/seasonal-affective-disorder

Choices Psychotherapy
https://choicespsychotherapy.net/signs-of-seasonal-affective-disorder/

Robson, David. (2020). Dreading a Dark Winter Lockdown? Think like a Norwegian.
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/sep/26/dreading-a-dark-winter-lockdown-think-like-a-norwegian

Winter Safety

The New Year is upon us and with it, the chilling conditions for the next few winter months. There are potential hazards with every season but winter storms and cold temperatures can be especially dangerous.

Most of us from time to time have felt cold during the winter, but what many may not know is being very cold has the potential of being dangerous. Remember being young and playing outside in the snow for hours and not being troubled by the cold? Changes occur as we age, causing older adults to lose body heat faster than when younger.

Staying Warm, Medical Conditions and Medicines

Several illnesses make it harder for your body to stay warm and should be acknowledged.

  • Thyroid problems have been known to make it harder for a person to maintain proper body temperature.
  • Diabetes can change normal blood flow making it difficult for the body to stay warm.
  • Parkinson’s disease and arthritis can increase the difficulty of putting on more clothing. Use a blanket or stay out of the cold.
  • Memory loss can cause a person to venture outside in the cold without being properly dressed.

Talk with your doctor about your health conditions and avoiding possible hypothermia.

Taking certain medication and not being active may also affect the body’s ability to maintain body heat. The effects of medications include over-the-counter medicines (such as cold medications). It is best to consult with your doctor about medical conditions, medication, and cold weather.

Hypothermia

What is Hypothermia? According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA): ”Hypothermia is what happens when your body temperature gets very low. For an older person, a body temperature of 95 degrees or lower can cause many health problems, such as heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage, or worse.”

Furthermore, the NIA continues to warn: “Being outside in the cold, or even being in a very cold house, can lead to hypothermia. Try to stay away from cold places, and pay attention to how cold it is where you are. You can take steps to lower your chance of getting hypothermia.”

Warning signs of Hypothermia

Below are warnings signs for hypothermia to watch for in others and yourself. Watch very very cold homes, or persons not dressed for the cold weather. Be sure to have a discussion with family and friends about these warning signs so they can help be on the outlook for you.

The list below has been adapted from  https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cold-weather-safety-older-adults

Early signs:

  • Cold feet and hands
  • Puffy or swollen face
  • Pale skin
  • Shivering (in some cases the person with hypothermia does not shiver)
  • Slower than normal speech or slurring words
  • Acting sleepy
  • Being angry or confused

Later signs:

  • Moving slowly, trouble walking, or being clumsy
  • Stiff and jerky arm or leg movement
  • Show heartbeat
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Blacking out or losing consciousness

Call 911 right away if you think someone has warning signs of hypothermia.

Keeping Warm Indoors

Although the focus thus far has been directed at seniors, there are also various reasons for people with special needs to have problems staying warm and comfortable. The NIA notes: “Even if you keep your temperature between 60°F and 65°F, your home or apartment may not be warm enough to keep you safe.” Living alone becomes a problem because there is no one else is there to feel the chill of your home. Below are some tips to help with keeping you warm indoors:

  • Set your thermostat to at least 68°F and 70°F. While doing this close vents and close the doors to rooms you are not using and keep the basement door closed.
  • Use space heaters with caution, some space heaters can be fire hazards, some can cause carbon monoxide poising. Read and follow all instructions and consumer safety precautions.
  • Check your smoke alarms and CO2 detectors.
  • Be sure to follow routine maintenance of furnaces, be sure vents are clear, and check any filters regularly.
  • Roll towels and place them in front of doors with a draft. Make sure your house isn’t losing heat through windows. Keep blinds, curtains or drapery closed. If you have gaps around the windows, consider using weather stripping, caulk, or plastic window sheets.
  • If you suspect your home does not have enough insulation, you may wish to contact your state or local energy agency. You may also consider contacting your local power and gas company. All of these agencies may be able to provide you with valuable information on winterizing your home. This can help in lowering your utility bills and they have special programs to aid those people with limited incomes.
  • Even though you are staying indoors, on cold days add an extra layer of clothing, a simple blanket or extra pair of socks and slippers can do wonders.
  • Try wearing long underwear under your pajamas, wear socks, or maybe throw on an extra blanket. Wear a cap or hat to bed. Keeping warm is far more important on cold winter nights than appearance.
  • Body fat helps you stay warm. If you don’t eat well you have less fat under the skin, therefore make sure you eat enough to main your weight.
Bowl of chicken soup
  • Alcoholic drinks have been shown to cause the body to lose heat, if you, drink do it in moderation.
  • Have an emergency plan, include your physician in the planning. Have emergency contacts in place, a list of prescription medications. Those with special needs should sign up with your area Special Needs Registry.
  • If you are having a hard time paying your heating bills, you may be able to get some help by contacting the National Energy Assistance Referral service at energyassistance@ncat.org, or by calling 1-866-674-6327 (toll-free; TTY, 1-866-367-6228) for more information about the Low Income Home Assistance Program.

Several online resources are addressing cold weather concerns and precautions that are important for people with disabilities and the elderly. Listed below are some basic tips to help keep them safer and warmer.

It may seem repetitive, but Make staying warm a priority!

  1. Wear multiple layers of clothing. Simply because of limitations that accompany the winter season, maintaining body heat is certainly one of the major challenges. Wearing layered clothing during the winter months will help to keep your body warm. Just remember it easier to add another layer of clothing, than to endure the alternative of being chilled. When braving the outdoors you should consider Dr. Kevin Sirmons reports: “40-45 percent of body heat is lost through the head and neck due to increased blood flow in comparison with the rest of the body.” So don’t forget a wearing scarf and a hat, additionally, your ears are part of your head and will serve you better if covered in cold temperatures. Finally, any exposed part of the body in the cold has the potential for heat loss. Wear insulated gloves, doubled up socks, and a pair of lined winter boots when going outdoors.
  2. A final word on layering. If possible have a winter coat with a hood attached. It is easy if you are caught outside without a hat or conditions become windy to simply flip the hood up over your head. Lastly, layering is best done using thin layers allowing air between layers to act as insulation and allow for freedom of movement. Avoid cotton whenever possible, once wet or damp it does not dry-well. Man-made fibers such as polypropylene tend to wick moisture away from the body. If your clothing should become damp or wet change them as soon as possible.

Additional Winter Safety Precautions:

  • Keep your Sidewalk Cleaned: Keeping your sidewalks free of snow and ice is critical for anyone with mobility difficulties. We all find it difficult to navigate icy walkways and through three of snow. Now just imagine trying to use a cane or walker, or traveling in a wheelchair, whether it be traditional or motorized. Be sure the sidewalk is cleaned wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. The width of a shovel blade is not wide enough.
  • Wheelchairs: On the Easter Seals website Phyllis Buchanan, who is a power wheelchair user, provides some tips:
    • Think of your wheelchair as a car, especially in the winter. “this means making sure everything is tuned up, charged, and ready for possible rough terrain ahead.”
    • She also suggests, “having an emergency kit in case you become stuck in hazardous conditions. Some items to have on hand include a protein bar, bottle of water, hand warmers, and kitty litter to use for traction.”
    • Buchanan also recommends: “wheelchair users should consider buying an all-weather poncho that is spacious enough to fit over you and your chair. They can be found at any camping supply store.”
    • Another of Phyllis’s ideas is: “wheelchair users may want to consider outfitting their wheelchair with snow tires to prepare for the icy conditions. If you’re seeking financial assistance or a grant to make sure your wheelchair is winter-ready, consider reaching out to your local Easter seals for advice.”
  • Stock Up: We have already discussed the importance of maintaining body fat and the need for eating properly in the winter months. Being prepared for severe winter storms means stocking up on not only some non-perishable food items but also batteries, and if you heat with wood, a good supply of firewood, but also make sure all appropriate prescriptions are filled.
  • Carry a cell phone: It seems like a simple idea but keeping a charged cell phone with you can be a lifesaver, if you slip and fall, if you are stranded in your car, or simply lock yourself out of your house.
  • Move Slowly: If you do need to go out during the winter months, especially during or right after a weather event, even if it’s just to your mailbox, walk slowly and keep your balance and take your cell phone with you. Use cheaters on your boots or shoes, they dig into ice and hard-packed snow. For those requiring walking aids be sure to have rubber tips on them so that if you put all your weight on the device it will help to prevent slipping on ice. Finally, it is not a good idea to use rollators in snow or on ice.
  • Sign up with the Special Needs Registry in your area: On the website https://www.usedhandicapvans.com/blog/winter-safety-tips-for-people-with-disabilities/ they report: “Each county within each state of the United States has what is called a ‘Special Needs Registry’. This allows those residents who have special needs or who require special assistance to register with their county. If there is a natural disaster or an evacuation, or something else that would require assistance, your information will be on file in the area that you live in, making it more accessible to get the help you need, when you need it most.”

They go on to explain: “Refer to an example of the Special Needs Registry in Fairfax County, VA.”

  • Don’t forget your four-legged friends: While tending to our winter needs, we shouldn’t forget about our furry friends who we depend on much more than we often realize. Although they may have thick natural fur coats our pets can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite just as much as people. Seeing-eye dogs and service animals need to be prepared and protected for harsh winter conditions to ensure their safety. Service dogs going outdoors should have boots to protect their feet not only from the cold and ice buildup on their fur but equally important to protect their feet from rock salt used on walkways and streets. Undissolved salt crystals can be not only painful but harmful to the animal’s paws.

Work Cited:

Sirmons, Kevin, MD, NRP. (2016). 5 Ways Body Heat is Lost. Retrieved from: https://www.centracare.com/blog/2016/january/top-5-ways-body-heat-is-lost/

HMEA. (2015). Winter Considerations and Safety Tips for People With Disabilities. Retrieved from: https://www.hmea.org/winter-considerations-and-safety-tips-for-people-with-disabilities/

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Be Prepared to Stay Safe and Healthy in Winter. Retrieved from:https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/winterweather/index.html

National Institute for the Aging, Staff.  (2021). Cold Weather Safety for Older Adults. U.S. Department Health & Human Services. Retrieved from: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cold-weather-safety-older-adults

Van Products, admin. (2015). Winter Safety Tips for People with Disabilities. Retrieved from:  https://www.usedhandicapvans.com/blog/winter-safety-tips-for-people-with-disabilities/

Ridley Park Police Department. (2021). Tips for the Disabled & Elderly During Winter. Retrieved from:  http://www.infoineed.com/health/safety-tips-for-the-elderly-and-disabled-during-winter

Additional Resources:

Winter Safety Tips for People with Disabilities
https://www.easterseals.com/explore-resources/living-with-disability/winter-safety-tips-for-people-with-disabilities.html

6 ways to stay warm and well this winter if you have a disability
https://disabilityhorizons.com/2018/11/6-ways-to-stay-warm-and-well-this-winter-if-you-have-a-disability/

Winter Storms – Red Cross Offers 15 Ways to Stay Safe When Winter Hits
https://www.redcross.org/local/dc-va-md-de/about-us/news-and-events/press-releases/red-cross-offers-15-ways-to-stay-safe-when-winter-hits.html

Winter Safety Tips
https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/winter

Winter Safety on the Spectrum
https://theplaceforchildrenwithautism.com/blog/winter-safety-on-the-spectrum

Winter Weather Safety Tips
https://ddrinc.org/winter-weather-safety-tips/

Should You Get a Pet?

`Tis the season for shopping and gift-giving. While shopping for that perfect gift, considering a pet for someone with a disability will require much consideration.

Lydia

I will confess to being one of 10 to 30% of the population that is a cat lover, so when it comes to choosing a pet I am a bit prejudiced. Being a cat owner means accepting being treated with indifference as commonplace, or going out for the evening and coming home to this creature you care for, acting as though you’re a perfect stranger. Anything dropped on the floor instantly becomes a play toy and disappears forever. Since mine is an in-door cat there is the matter of a litter box. I would have never believed such a sweet little fur-ball could produce such a god-awful odor.  Yet with all the loving attention and gifts given, the biggest reward is stepping on, in bare feet, an ice-cold hairball on the kitchen floor, which was barfed up during the night.

Despite all of the above negatives, there would be a void in my life if she wasn’t there. In the middle of a cold winter night, having her jump in bed and curl behind my legs and purr is somehow comforting even though I find myself sleeping in some awkward positions, not willing to move or roll-over for fear of disturbing her.

In these times of maintaining social distancing and isolation have been difficult for everyone. For seniors living alone or in a nursing home, combined with the holidays, this is even more so. For those isolated because of a disability, the changes in routine and lack of social contact can have an equally negative effect on their lives.

According to the CDC, “there are many health benefits of owning a pet”. They go on to state that “There are many health benefits of owning a pet.” There seems to be an attachment that forms, it’s a bond and goes beyond just food and water or being familiar and comfortable with one another. CDC studies have shown that this bond between humans and pets can increase fitness while also bring about increased happiness.

Reports by the CDC found this relationship between humans and their pets have some health benefits which include:

  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decreased cholesterol levels
  • Decreased triglyceride levels
  • Decreased feelings of loneliness
  • Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
  • Increased opportunities for socialization

Additionally,  pets have been shown to help lower stress and bring about happiness.

Consideration for Selecting the Right Pet

When thinking about adopting that perfect pet for you, or your family members or member. To help you with your research, the list below is adapted from the CDC recommended questions to ask yourself the following questions before choosing a pet:

My buddy
Pooba
  • How long will the animal live?
  • What does the animal eat?
  • How much exercise does the pet need?
  • How large will it become?
  • How much will it cost for veterinary care?
  • Is there enough time (or capability) to properly care for and clean up after the pet?
  • What type of habitat does this pet need to be healthy?
  • What type of exercise does this pet need?
  • Are pets allowed in the home, apartment, or condominium?
  • Is the young person, older person, or people with weak immune systems who will care for or be around the pet?

What may be the most important consideration is: Does anyone in the immediate or extended family have allergies to any animal? The health concern can halt the process of adding a pet to the household before it begins.

For additional information and health concerns visiting the CDC website is recommended:

https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html

Choosing the Right Pet for a Senior

For older adults considering adding a pet to the home, be aware there are things to think about and to take into account before bring that pet home.

What is the best pet for a senior citizen? Esther Kane believes: “The best type of pet to get if you are an older adult is one that fits your lifestyle, your needs, your home environment and one that you can physically care for.”

Seniors who rely on a wheelchair or bed-bound or have difficulties walking with or without using some kind of aid will find caring for a dog, cat, or even a rabbit difficult. Caring for a pet would be impossible without assistance from others.

Below is a list of questions and issues to realistically to consider when choosing the best pet for senior life:

  • What size pet can be best accommodated in your home.
  • Can you manage just one pet or more?
  • Can you provide enough time for your pet to keep healthy and happy?
  • Can you afford the cost of food, vet visits, training (if needed)? This must also include any toys or furniture need for the comfort of your pet.
  • Do you have support in place to care for your pet, if or when you become unable to?
  • Are you able to tolerate (and repair) any damage caused by your pet?
  • What do you want from your pet(s)? Protection? Companionship? (How does one cuddle with or interact with fish?)
  • Are you physically capable of caring for your pet? Will you be capable 5 or 10 years from now?

Veterans, PTSD, and Pets

For many of our veterans returning home from the wars in the middle east, the experiences have left them traumatized. Most of these go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is an anxiety disorder with a  variety of symptoms. For example: having flashbacks, nightmares, or emotional numbness to name a few.

Arlo likes
cookies too

Treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and medication have shown reasonable success. Many going through these therapies can help them to work through their symptoms lessening the impact the condition has on their lives and sometimes flares do occur.

Additionally, it can be hard to admit they are struggling and need help. To make matters worse it can be even harder to admit to someone who has never been at war and believe they could help with the symptoms. Finally, many veterans simply find it difficult to access the help they need.

Psychologytoday.com reports some of the reasons dogs might help those with PTSD:

There is a bright spot for these veterans in the form of dogs.

  • “Dogs are vigilant. Anyone who has ever had a nightmare knows that a dog in the room provides information. They immediately let you know if you are really in immediate danger or if you just had a nightmare. This extra layer of vigilance mimics the buddy system in the military.”
  • “Dogs are protective. Just like the buddy system in the military. Someone is there to have your back.
  • “Dogs respond well to authoritative relationships. Some military personnel return from their deployments and have difficulty functioning in their relationships. They are used to giving and getting orders. This usually doesn’t work well in the typical American home, and many servicemen and women have been told to knock that off once they got home. Dogs love it.”
  • “Dogs love unconditionally.  Some military personnel returning from their deployments have difficulty adjusting to the civilian world.” They soon realize the skills they were taught and applied while in the military do not apply and do not transfer to their new civilian life. Although they were well respected for their skills in the military, the lack of respect for these skills in civilian life can be devastating. “Dogs don’t play any of these games. They just love.”
  • “Dogs help relearn trust. Trust is a big issue in PTSD. It can be very difficult to feel safe in the world after certain experiences, and being able to trust the immediate environment can take some time. Dogs help heal by being trustworthy.”
  • “Dogs help to remember feelings of love. The world can look pretty convoluted after deployment to a war zone. But it seems vets have found not what happens in their relationship with their pets, all they feel from their dog is love.

The author ends by stating: “the best part is that it doesn’t seem to matter if the dog is a Pitbull or a Chihuahua or a plain old mutt.”

Pets for Your Child with Autism

This section must start with a disclaimer: I am not an expert on Autism, or do I recommend a pet for those with Autism. The choice of a pet in this situation depends greatly on the person the pet is intended for. I can say I have seen some positive outcomes.

pawsitivityservicedogs.com
Autism Service Dog

Have you given thoughts to getting a pet, but you just are unsure if it is a good idea? Do you have a pet but have not figured out how to help your child with Autism to be gentle with the animal? What type of pet would be best suited for your child? Is a service dog appropriate? How do you teach your autistic child to interact with a pet introduced to the household safely?

An article by Amelia Dalphonse provides pros and cons to many of the questions one may have as well as some the readers may not have thought of.

Dalphonse believes: “Pets are wonderful for children in a variety of ways:

  • Companionship
  • Teach responsibility
  • Help with emotional regulation
  • Service animals

With these benefits come some specific challenges:

  • Responsibility is often like adding another child to the family
  • Young children often need extra supervision around pets to ensure safety
  • Some pets may be disturbed by loud noises or challenging behavior

So, what is the answer? It’s up to the individual family to decide what is right for them.”

Companionship

Dalphonse explains: “Many children feel more understood by pets than by parents. This may be because they never judge, get angry, or yell.”

There has been some research that found a connection between autistic children, owning a pet, and improvement in social behavior. For children with autism, there is often a struggle with empathy and the consideration of how their behavior impacts others. Dalphonse points out: “Learning prosocial behavior by taking care of a pet can help them develop this key skill.”  In the article, Dalphonse continues to acknowledge: “the research is just emerging and not definitive, this could be a significant benefit for children with autism. This benefit may be more apparent with specially trained therapy animals.”

Teach Responsibility

There is no question that pet-owning comes with an abundance of responsibilities. Even very young children can learn to provide some basic care like providing food and water or brushing the pet. It should be noted that this can be helpful, but it depends on the child. In some cases caring for a pet might represent just another thing to be opposed to.

Help with Emotional Regulation

Pets have been shown to greatly reduce stress and anxiety and they can provide a source of comfort in life. Again a cat person, there is little I find more comforting than the sound of a cat purring. That unconditional love and nonjudgmental companionship can provide a soothing diversion from stress and the promotion of emotional well-being.

Service Animals

Autistic children can benefit from service animals for a variety of needs. They can act as a second set of eyes warning the adults that the child is engaged in something dangerous. Service animals have been trained to warn of seizures or that the child may need assistance. Service animals are well trained, as a result making their cost high and you will find they are difficult to obtain. Be sure a service animal is a right choice for your family before investing.

Added Responsibilities for Parents

Caring for a child with special needs can be overwhelming and adding the needs of a pet may be unreasonable. There is allowing time for training, play, and another mouth to feed. On top of the time required, there is also the pet’s health and vet appointment to meet and to pay for. One other consideration is travel. If you can travel with the child, you may have increased this difficulty by including a pet or having to find someone to look after the pet during your absence, or if for a long period, can you afford the cost of boarding your pet.

Safety

Dalphonse reminds us: “Children with autism engage in a variety of challenging behaviors and may have difficulty interacting appropriately and safely with a pet. These children may require extensive supervision around pets which can further strain the resources of already exhausted parents and caregivers.”

So Many More Pros and Cons

There are so many pros and cons in adding a pet to one’s life. What at first glance might seem simple can become a complex issue. However, the effort can be worth it.

It has been well documented for some time now, about the bonds that develop between humans and animals. This post has primarily covered dogs and cats, but there are far more creatures that can provide companionship and add to the life experience of human beings. This discussion is just a glimpse of the information available. There are provided below a few of the many links on the internet that may help in choosing if you should or shouldn’t bring a pet into your home. Kira Newman wrote: “It could be that adopting a needy animal confers its own benefits, as doing good deeds tends to make us happier and healthier.” Newman goes on to suggest:” It’s clear that what we receive from dogs in love and care comes back to us a hundredfold.” That applies to those living a life with a disability or loneliness.

One final comment, I started by discussing my relationship with my cat and at this point in my life, it is difficult to imagine my home being without her to care for and her connection with me. She helps me through sadness and the days of depression or stress. My wife and I at times find it hard to believe the companionship she is capable of providing.

Works Cited:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). About Pets & People. Retrieved from:
 https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html

Kane, Esther. (20180. What Is The Best Pet For A Senior Citizen?. Retrieved From:
https://seniorsafetyadvice.com/what-is-the-best-pet-for-a-senior-citizen/

Stecker, Tracy, Ph.D. (2011). Why dogs heal PTSD. Retrieved from:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/survivors/201107/why-dogs-heal-ptsd

Dalphonse, Amelia. (2019). Pets and Children with Autism: What You Should Know. Retrieved from: https://accessibleaba.com/blog/pets-and-children-with-autism

Newman, Kira, M. (2018) The Science-Backed Benefits of Being a Cat Lover.  Retrieved from:  https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_science_backed_benefits_of_being_a_cat_lover

Additional Information: (these are just a few, there are many more sites)

Wang, Karen. How to choose the right pet for a family with specials needs. 
https://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2013/05/09/how-to-choose-the-right-pet-for-a-family-with-special-needs/

Autism Speaks. Assistance Dog Information.
https://www.autismspeaks.org/assistance-dog-information

Paws with a Cause. Service Dogs For Children with Autism.
https://www.pawswithacause.org/what-we-do/assistance-dogs/service-dogs-for-children-with-autism/

Coren, Stanley, Ph.D., DSc, FRSC. (2009). Health and Psychological Benefits of Bonding with a Pet Dog. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/200906/health-and-psychological-benefits-bonding-pet-dog

Dalphonse, Amelia. Should You Get a Service Dog for Your Child with Autism?
https://accessibleaba.com/blog/service-dog-for-your-child-with-autism

Langtree, Ian. (2020). Therapy Cats for Emotional Support or Comfort Animals.
https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/serviceanimals/cats.php

National Center for PTSD.  Dogs and PTSD.
https://www.ptsd.va.gov/gethelp/dogs_ptsd.asp

Perdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.   Service dogs & PTSD.
https://www.vet.purdue.edu/chab/ohaire/PTSD.php

CNN Wire. (2020). Lifelike robotic pets used to help isolated seniors avoid loneliness.
https://ktla.com/news/nationworld/lifelike-robotic-pets-used-to-help-isolated-seniors-avoid-loneliness/

Whitney Rehabilitation Care Center. (2019). How Pets Can Help Fight Loneliness in Seniors. https://www.whitneyrehab.com/how-pets-can-help-fight-loneliness-in-seniors/

Suttie, Jill. (2020) The Science-Backed Benefits of Being a Dog Owner
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_science_backed_benefits_of_being_a_dog_owner

Why Fish Make Great Pets For Kids
https://thewittyfish.com/why-fish-make-great-pets-for-kids/

Self-Expression Among the Disabled

“We all have our own unique quirks and traits,” writes Courtney E. Ackerman MSc, she goes on to say: “we all have our own preferences and style for sharing pieces of ourselves with those around us.”

Self-expression for the disabled is just as important and can be just as creative and beautiful as it is for society in general. Social and emotional outlets are needed due to the psychological stereotyping of disabilities and the desire to be so-called ‘normal’. Self-expression provides the opportunity to experience a feeling of cultural normality.

Self-expression is something we are all aware of, it is at the core of every human being,and it is important not only for adults but children as well to have the freedom to self-express. The importance of self-expression should not be underestimated in society. Self-expression can take many forms. People may express themselves through words, facial expressions, body positions, movements, clothing, actions, and the arts.

In her article for positivepsychology.com Courtney Ackerman remarks: “How we share and express ourselves to others forms the basis of our personality, as understood by everyone but us, and sets the tone for our entire lives. It’s a vital aspect of life to pay attention to, especially if you want to feel more understood and more in tune with the people you care about.”

Furthermore, Ackerman goes on to comment: “The way that we share ourselves is known as self-expression, and it turns out there are a lot of ways to do it.”

As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the signing into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it seems like the perfect opportunity to point out that the term disabled is in so many cases misleading. It seems appropriate to appreciate that all people are equipped with varying abilities, strengths and weaknesses, and hidden talents which are often used for self-expression.

Before the ADA people living with disabilities were often minimized or ignored. There was little value placed on self-expression by the disabled. In the past 30 years, society has slowly begun to appreciate the feeling and ideas that were previously suppressed.

The Arts of the Past

It was not that long ago in human history that a person with a disability had few possibilities of self-expression. The few opportunities available were limited to that of being a sideshow ‘freak’ such as in the case of Charles B. Tripp. His talents ad skills may have been overlooked if not for P.T. Barnum and Ringling Brothers.

Throughout history, there have been numerous, famous, talented people with a disability who accomplished amazing works in all forms of the Arts. Below is a small list of those exceptional people:

  • Michelangelo: according to the Passionate People Team: “Experts disagree whether Michelangelo had gout or osteoarthritis. But either way, the famous painter and sculptor recorded that he had significant trouble using his hands.”

It has been claimed that the artist suffered from chronic kidney stones which would point to gout, but regardless, the artist continued his work with hammer and chisel as well as paints until he was nearly 89 years old.

  • Vincent Van Gogh: was believed to be bipolar and affected with bouts of depression. Of Van Gogh, The Passionate People Staff report: “had temporal lobe epilepsy” they continue report: “It is believed that his physician, Dr. Gachet, prescribed digitalis to treat his seizures. One common side effect of this medicine is seeing yellow spots. Some historians wonder if this is why Van Gogh seemed to love to use the color yellow in his art.” Additionally, it is believed that Van Gogh was most productive during his manic periods.

The talents in the arts are not limited just to visual arts, music has its share of composers and musicians who refused to allow physical barriers to hold them back.

  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Although he lived more than a century ago, the music he wrote still resonates today. The impact this German composer has had a lasting impact on classical music. Lee Standberry notes: “In the 1790s, Beethoven slowly began to lose his hearing, but continued to play, compose, and conduct. Eventually, he became entirely deaf, yet he didn’t let his disability stop him.”
  • Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles: Switching to more contemporary music, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles are considered legends in the world of music. Wonder was born blind, as a singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and producer he first signed with Motown Records at the age of 11.   
  • Since that time Standberry reports: “Wonder has been able to produce more than 30 top ten hits in the U.S. Ray Charles, Standberry tells: “plays piano, sings, and acts, all while being blind. Though not born blind, his eyesight started to deteriorate around age five, and he was completely blind when he turned seven.” Like Wonder, Charles also won several Grammy Awards and both men have won Life Time Achievement Awards and both were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.        

Film and TV Performers

The performance arts have a remarkable list of diverse people who have overcome a disability and have gone on to successful careers and have entertained and amazed us for years. On stage and screen, though dance, portraying real and imaginary characters, these people have made their talent overshadow their challenges. It is impossible to do fair justice to these showmen but it is hoped some of the links supplied will shine a light on the skills they possess.

https://www.imdb.com/list/ls002311249/https://disabilityhorizons.com/2017/12/top-10-disabled-celebrities-across-world

Performance Arts (Dance and Theater)

While growing up the farthest thing on my radar was an interest in the Arts especially dance and performing arts. Now as an adult I have gained an appreciation for visual arts, with interest in the works of people such as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Rubens, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, and other painters, but Performance Arts has never been in my field of vision.  Yet through the studies of disabilities, the possibilities for self-expression offered by dance and stage performances are intriguing.

At first glance, there was a great feeling of admiration for the athleticism of the performers, the grace, and the flow of the movements. Watching You-Tube performances by Anjali Dance Company and Axis Dance Company one can easily become lost in the presentation and forgetful of the disabilities and, most importantly, the messages being conveyed through the performance.  Performance art presented by the disabled portrays messages that are subject to the interpretations of the audience.

Axis Dance Company performance
retrieved from: https://www.artsedconnect.org/educator/axis-dance-company/

Personally, one of the more captivating performances comes from the National Theater of the Deaf or the Deaf West Theater. It’s hard to imagine a deaf theater performance, but the combination of hand movement, facial expressions, and movements are magical together. Through this performance of beauty and grace, there may not be a better example of self-expression.

Visual Art

The need for humans of all types to have an opportunity to self-express is part of our makeup. In the area of visual arts, maybe best exampled by considering Henri Matisse, who is considered by many to be one of the greatest impressionist artists. His desire for self-expression continued even when ill health prevented him from painting, in his final years he turned to paper cutting and collages and creating some of his most important works.

Stigmas and feelings of isolation have often been a constant companion for those living with a disability. Marija Bern of the Bored Panda web site staff wrote: “Around 10 percent of the total world’s population or roughly 650 million people, live with a disability according to Disability Statistics’ annual report.”

Lisa Fittipaldi
Disability: Visually Impaired
Lisa not only learned to paint after losing her sight,
she wrote a book about it. Her inspiring use of color
and her ability to tell which color she is using just by feeling
the texture of the paint are just two remarkable facets of
her story.
retrieved from: https://www.webdesignerdepot.com

Bern continues saying: “From artists painting with their mouths to blind photographers – these disabled people are truly an inspiration. Living with conditions most can’t imagine, they often use this art as a way to communicate with the world.” The human need for self-expression becomes evident once one explores these works.

As mainstreaming increases, so to will come acceptance increase, and the desensitizing of cultures as they become increasingly familiar with people who are disabled. With each new generation as the previous one fades away, tolerance is increasing. Baby boomers are far more tolerant than their parents. The baby boomer’s children even more so, the acceptance and recognition of the abilities of the disabled and is far more acceptable now than for those of the World War II era.

It may be hard to believe that some of the most talented people deal with disabilities in their lives every day, living with and adjusting to situations the rest cannot imagine living with, yet have taken their talents and artistries and put them to use as a means of self-expression and to communicate feelings with the world.

With some guidance and encouragement and using a variety of methods, the results of these efforts are magnificent. Many of the artists paint with their hands, but others with their mouths or their feet. Many are blind or suffer from mental disabilities yet the drive for self-expression produces some of the most beautiful and intricate work anyone can imagine.

As the WebdesignerDepot comments on their website: “Their achievements are arguably epic in the face of the adversity that they face.

We hope that the artists in this post inspire your designs and make you look at adversity in any field as a surmountable obstacle.”

Works Cited:

Bern, Marija. (2020). We Can’t Believe What These 37 Artists Can Do Despite Their Disabilities.
Retrieved from:https://www.boredpanda.com/

Passionate People Staff. (2020). 5 World-Famous Artists That Had Disabilities. Retrieved from: https://www.passionatepeople.invacare.eu.com/5-world-famous-artists-disabilities/ 06/29/20

Standberry, Lee. (July 10, 2009). Top 10 Disabled Musicians. Retrieved from: https://www.toptenz.net/top-10-disabled-musicians.php 07/01/20

Ackerman, Courtney, E, MSc. (2020) What is Self-Expression and How to Foster It? (20 Activities + Examples). Retrieved from: https://positivepsychology.com/self-expression/

Additional Information:

http://www.disabledartistsguild.com
https://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2010/03/the-amazing-art-of-disabled-artists/
http://www.anjali.co.uk/
https://www.disabilityartsinternational.org/artists/profiles/anjali-dance-company/
https://www.axisdance.org/
https://www.thehumanarvels.com/charles-tripp-the-armless-wonder/
https://news.uga.edu/hands-in-theater-for-deaf-hearing/