Living a life that includes friends and meaningful activities is important for everyone. Having friends to talk to about your experiences, and to relax and have fun with, can alleviate stress and reduce feelings of isolation and boredom. Participating in activities that allow you to learn new things and experience success keeps your mind and body active, and helps develop a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. Having friends and participating in meaningful community activities can support positive mental health.
We can all agree that these things are important for people with developmental disabilities. However, as a direct support professional (DSP) you may confront barriers when you try to help the people you support to live active lives in the community. For example, you may find it challenging to:
- Arrange appropriate transportation to and from community activities.
- Make sure that activities are accessible to people with developmental disabilities.
- Pay for people to attend classes or events they would like.
- Communicate with the individual about what activities they would find enjoyable.
Here are some resources that may help you overcome some of these barriers:
Paratransit services are required by the ADA for individuals with disabilities who are unable to use fixed route transportation systems. You can find a free handout from The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund that explains how to apply for paratransit services at this link.
The following websites provide information about assistive technology, advocacy, and other accessibility issues:
- Protection and Advocacy in California
- Assistive Technology Network
- California Foundation for Independent Living Centers
The Consumer Advisory Committee provides tools to help people with developmental disabilities think about their life satisfaction and communicate their choices. These free tools are available online:
Walking the Neighborhood
How much do you and the people you support know about your neighborhood? It is easy to get so busy that we forget to pay attention to what is right in front of us. But, by finding things to do in your own neighborhood, the people you support can walk or use the facility vehicle to get to community activities. They won’t have to rely on (or pay for) public transportation.
A fun activity for you to try with people you support is to "walk" the neighborhood. This can be done by actually walking (great exercise!) or by driving slowly in a van or car.
Start by walking (or driving) around the block. You may see houses, a grocery store, or the local coffee shop. Help the person you support draw a map showing what you found.
Now expand your search by walking around several blocks, with your home in the middle. You may notice a park, a library, or a community service organization. Add this information to your neighborhood map.
If you see a park, check out what activities take place there. Are there Little League baseball games? You and the people you support could go and cheer on a team. If you see a library, go inside. Ask if they have books on tape, movies, or reading hours.
If you pass a religious congregation, stop in and ask about their services and activities. They may have a group for young adults, or older people. You don’t have to be a member of the congregation
You can walk your neighborhood as many times as you like, taking different streets each time, and finding new ways to connect with community.
Arts and Leisure: Opportunities Online
Creative arts, such as drawing or painting, writing (poetry, stories, or articles), dancing, and acting are great ways for individuals with developmental disabilities to express themselves, meet new people, and get involved with their communities. Below are two organizations in California that work to connect people with disabilities to the world of the arts.
The National Arts and Disability Center
This organization maintains a resource library including information about arts programs, classes, and performances by and for those with disabilities. They also have an online gallery of visual and literary art by people with disabilities. If someone you support would like to be included in the gallery, there is a submission form on their website!
VSA Arts of California
This organization works to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the arts and to arts training. They support an online Artists Community (no fee required), which provides opportunities for support, advocacy, and arts career advancement to artists with disabilities in the State of California. The application to join the VSA Artists Community is on their website!