Adaptive Yoga

Yoga has been shown to offer tremendous benefits to those who practice it, including stress management, alleviation of pain, improved physical fitness, increased flexibility and balance, enhanced mood, blood pressure regulation, and more. According to an article from Psychology Today, studies have shown that yoga practice helps to balance and regulate cortisol, a hormone that controls blood sugar, metabolism, and inflammation. According another study by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, yoga can also help alleviate chronic lower back pain.

Recently, yoga has become popular for its accessibility – with a few modifications, the benefits of yoga are available to almost everyone, regardless of age or ability level. Adaptive yoga practice has recently earned recognition as a complementary therapy for individuals with developmental disabilities and autism. For more information, check out this article by Yoga International.

All of this developing research has led to the creation of adaptive yoga programs for people with disabilities. Last year, Venture honored one of the best programs in the area, Shri Service Corps, with their Community Contribution Award. Shri has launched their Adaptive Yoga Pilot Project, which offers their unique curriculum of adaptive yoga to individuals with developmental disabilities. For more information, visit their web site or check out their inspiring informational video.

For a list of other adaptive yoga instructors in Massachusetts, click here.

A Professional Workforce

By Mike Hyland, President and CEO

There are many adjectives that apply to the people providing direct care throughout the human services industry. Caring, reliable, creative, compassionate, dedicated. Each of those words is a fitting description of the many people in our field who apply their considerable skill and talents to keep people safe. Unfortunately, there is another word that describes this group of professionals: underpaid.

It’s certainly no secret that people who work in the direct care part of social services don’t make a lot of money doing so. But why is that? Why has society allowed that to be okay? It’s actually puzzling because the work that these people do is an economic win for everyone. Without professionals working in community-based settings the people they support would be back in vastly more expensive institutions – institutions that are built and maintained by tax dollars. Without professionals working in community-based settings the people they support would be at greater risk of medical and psychiatric hospitalizations, also a very expensive bill. And what of the human element? It is through the work of these professional service providers that people who need help can be engaged in communities, keep a paying job, and grow in challenging directions. These things happen because direct support professionals have the skills to create the safety nets that allow those they help to achieve as much as they can. So why has society undervalued the contributions and economic importance of these professionals for so long?

Teachers spent generations in the same predicament. Everyone quietly understood that teachers were doing work that most of us can’t and that they were providing a valuable service to society. Yet, although there is still a long way to go to recognize all teachers in our country, there has been progress. Per the Boston Business Journal, the median teacher salary in Massachusetts was just under $70,000 in 2013. That was more than $20 per hour higher than the wages paid to people working in direct service jobs in human service organizations in Massachusetts. It is clearly time that society begins to value the work done by this class of professionals. They work under trying conditions with enormous responsibilities and they deserve to be compensated for that, just as teachers should. We as a culture are finally realizing in economic terms the amazing work being done in the field of public education and we are realizing that this work is the result of a talented and dedicated group of professionals. We now need to start doing the very same for the talented and dedicated professionals who use their skills to help people every day. They too are doing work that can be done by only a small percentage of professionals in our society.

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and a great time for everyone, regardless of any mental health disorder, to step back and take stock of their mental health. As we know, this topic has been receiving more attention over the past several years – in fact, 18% of the adult population of the United States is living with a mental illness according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This equals roughly 57 million Americans – obviously a number that deserves our attention. What’s important to recognize is that mental health is not just about the mental illness. Like making preventive measures to protect our physical health, we must take care of ourselves emotionally as well. There are so many ways to manage your mental health:

  1. Exercise – Exercise is a great way to deal with stress and anxiety. According to an article published by the American Psychological Association, physical activity has positive effects on the mood in both the short and long term. A 2007 study of adults with depression revealed that patients on an exercise plan had the same level of relief as those taking an antidepressant medication. For more tips, check out this article from the Huffington Post.
  2. Meditation – Meditation is more accessible today than it has ever been. No longer just for monks or yogis, it is being recognized as an effective coping strategy for every day stress. Although it may sound intimidating, there are many easily-accessible guided meditation programs that make the practice available to almost anyone. For more information, check out this blog post from Harvard Health. Many people find yoga incredibly beneficial as well – here is an interesting article from Psychology Today about the mental health benefits of yoga.
  3. Eat well – Correlations between diet and mental health have only just begun being researched, but some studies have shown that whole, nutrient-dense foods have a positive effect on your mental and emotional well-being. Research has shown that poor diet results in concentration and memory issues. Check out this interesting article from the Washington Post.
  4. Talk to someone – Whether it’s a trusted friend, a family member, a licensed therapist, or a support group – talk about it! Years of research have shown us that getting things off our chests can help us to cope better with life’s stressors. Journaling can also be helpful. Check out this article from the Huffington Post about why counseling is beneficial for everyone.
  5. Get enough sleep – A good night’s sleep is essential for stress management and mental health. Our brains need time to reset! For more information, check out this article from Harvard Health.

Disability-Friendly Vacations

With summer just around the corner, now is the time for everyone to be planning their vacations and fun day trips!  When a family member has a developmental or physical disability, it can often add stress and uncertainty to this usually fun and exciting time.  There may be extra planning involved – is the hotel room accessible?  Will the amusement park be too over stimulating for someone with autism?  How will I roll my wheelchair at the beach?  The good news is, many destinations, travel agencies, and attractions have listened to the concerns of the disability community and have made many adaptations to create a more inclusive environment.  This week, we’d like to share with you some awesome travel destinations and other resources for people with all different types of disabilities.

  1. Autism on the Seas – This organization works with cruise lines like Royal Caribbean to accommodate children and adults with special needs.  Although the focus originated from the needs of people with autism, they work with individuals with a variety of disabilities.  The organization provides trained staff to various cruise lines to work with travelers and assist them with accessing all the amenities of the ship, as well as excursions.  They also have a financial assistance program!  Click here to view an awesome informational video.
  2. National Ability Center – These programs are for the adventurous at heart!  The National Ability Center in Park City, Utah is an incredible adaptive recreation program that offers activities like kayaking, skiing, horseback riding, rock climbing, and much more for people with physical and developmental disabilities.  This organization is the holy grail of adaptive sports equipment, providing opportunities for people with spinal cord injuries, amputations, intellectual disabilities, blindness, and beyond.  Their employees are highly trained professionals, many of whom have disabilities themselves.  Families are also encouraged to participate, creating a more inclusionary environment.  The program is proud to be able to keep its program fees quite low, and scholarships are also available.  Click here to visit their Facebook page.
  3. Disney World – The most magical place on Earth has an excellent reputation for accommodating guests with disabilities.  They’ve even developed a Guide for Guests with Cognitive Disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder which includes detailed information about what to expect on each ride at the park, such as loud noises, flashing lights, water, darkness, or bumps.  Break areas, companion restrooms, wheelchair rentals, and more are also available.
  4. Trips Inc. – This organization has been providing all-inclusive vacation packages for adults with cognitive and intellectual disabilities for almost 25 years.  Trips include New York City, Alaska, Yellowstone National Park, Hawaii, Iceland, Las Vegas and more.  Their certifications as a professional travel company, reasonable prices, and exceptional accommodations have won the praise of many individuals with disabilities.  Click here to read testimonials from travelers and their families and also be sure to check out their informational video about their program and the dignity of risk.
  5. Smugglers’ Notch – Located in Cambridge, Vermont, this family-friendly resort offers activities for every season.  The summer season boasts pools, waterslides, camps, and more.  The best part?  An adaptive recreation program with activities like horseback riding, hiking, and swimming that excels at inclusion.  Adaptive skiing is available in the winter seasons as well.  Click here for more information.