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Rising Up to the Challenges

By: Darleth Romana-Bantiles, MDRising Up to the Challenges

Some people with specific health conditions may be considered by law as persons with disabilities (PWDs). The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that approximately one billion people have some form of mental or physical disability. Unfortunately, 80 percent of them may be found in third world countries like the Philippines.

According to the Department of Health (DOH), around three percent of the country’s population experiences a certain difficulty in functioning. Factors such as aging, prevalence of acute and chronic illnesses, and traumatic injuries that lead to disabilities, together with poor access to quality health services contribute to the increase in the number of PWDs in the country. While PWDs are in constant need of health care and attention, the condition should not hinder them from achieving a good quality of life.

The truth is disability may just be a function of the environment; meaning it exists as long as the barriers to participation are not addressed. In other words, if those considered as PWDs and their loved ones will work something out to minimize (if not take away) the identified barriers, then the disability may not be debilitating at all. A comprehensive approach to aid PWDs should be beyond the context of addressing health issues, but more on helping them to cope with the environmental and social obstacles.

Moving, moving, and mobilizing

Studies demonstrated that an increase in physical activities, despite the disabilities, have conferred significant benefits to PWDs; specifically in their functional status and quality of life. Games, recreational activities or tournaments may be held regularly for PWDs in which even their families and other caregivers can participate.

However, the PWDs and their caregivers are not the only ones who need to start shaking their booties so to speak. The initiatives of the DOH in formulating a universally accessible program upon discussion with the PWDs themselves all point towards the right direction. A medium-term Strategic Plan was launched DOH in 2013 and the first Public Health Convention on the Health and Wellness of PWDs was held a year after.

Fitness instructors or wellness coordinators also play a significant role in improving environments for PWDs. Moreover, activities that increase the awareness of the general population regarding PWDs and their plight will improve the social climate for the latter to have increased participation in sports and other physical activities.

Creativity may be employed to modify exercise routines. For example, an ordinary sport accessory may be used as adjustment equipment (ex. an elastic bandage can be used to assist with gripping weights, or to secure feet or hands to a bicycle or an arm ergometer). Financial constraints also need not hamper equipment adjustments. Here are some helpful tips to ensure that any physical activity will run smoothly:

  • Safety is of utmost importance. Measures that match participating PWDs’ functional level should be in place. Spotters must be made available for PWDs who are lifting weights and flotation devices may be provided for those who are able to swim in a pool.
  • Make sure that physicians who are taking care of the participants are involved before starting any physical activity or program. These medical professionals may have suggestions about specific activities or exercises.
  • Open communication must be in place. This is to set clear and proper expectations prior to starting any PWD program/activity. Ask the participants if they have concerns such as anxiety with the activity, fear of getting injured or hurt, and find ways to address these issues. An activity buddy may be necessary or a buddy system could be set, so that new participants can have a source of further encouragement, support, and reassurance.

PWD-friendly celebrations

The holiday season gives us a license to be merry and bond with friends and family. It should be a memorable time for everybody, including family members who have disabilities. With well-thought-out preparations, special families may even have more meaningful get-togethers.

  • Plan ahead. As there will be many activities and some of them require changes in physical arrangements, the importance of devising a program or other logistic concerns as well as scheduling cannot be overemphasized.

For caregivers, it is important to obtain the flow of activities to prepare ahead of time. By doing so, the special concerns of a family member or a friend may be addressed. Questions such as “Are there ramps or signs in place to direct the guests to wheelchair-friendly routes going to the venue?” and “Does the guest with a special concern need to be at the venue before the set-up, just so the atmosphere will not be very unfamiliar and threatening to a certain extent?” can be addressed promptly.

A caregiver of a child with developmental concern may place a familiar toy or furniture that can serve as a sanctuary for the special guest, especially when the situation becomes “over stimulating”.

Even the menu may be made suitable to a guest with health problems.   Particular dishes may be prepared to address specific nutritional requirements, so that all guests will have an enjoyable feast.

  • The essence of giving. The truism that “it is better to give than to receive” also applies to your loved ones with disabilities. While some think PWDs should only be the recipient of gifts, it would bode well for them to be given the chance to give back. The present may not be necessarily material though. A song or dance intermission may be prepared by the guest with disability. A special number may also be prepared by other guests in which the person with disability can have special participation.     
  • Learn to say no.  Although it may be tempting to give in to every invitation. Try to select and prioritize the important occasions to prevent spreading  yourself too thinly and tiring your loved one too. Remember that it is better to participate fully in some events, rather than just do an “eat and run” routine every time. The latter may just leave everyone tired and cranky, inducing stress instead of spreading holiday cheers.

Whatever the season is, the most important thing is to always have a heart filled with gratitude and appreciation for all the blessings that you received this year. Taking care of a loved one with disability may be challenging but always remember that it also comes with blessings.

The opportunity to take care of your loved ones is already the best gift you can give to them. Not only does it allow you to become a better parent, sibling, friend, or relative; but also encourage others to be sensitive in their own way. Stepping up to disability issues makes one a better person. Lastly, be at peace knowing that those who truly care will understand and be there when help is required.

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