People With Disabilities Learn to Live Life to The Fullest

06/24/03    Portland, Ore.

Healthy Lifestyles Workshops developed by Oregon Health & Science University give people the tools to make their lives happy and successful

Connie Brittain joined the Healthy Lifestyles Workshop because she thought it was going to teach her about eating the right foods. What she found out, however, was that the workshop changed her life.

"I found out that eating healthfully was just one part of it. It was also about my emotional, social and spiritual health and living your values. The workshop helped me set goals for my life. At first I was focusing on eating healthy, but then the focus became more about going back to college. It gave me a new attitude on life. It was a fresh start," said Brittain, 47.

Brittain is in a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury resulting from a car accident in 1980. While raising her two children and her niece, she has been going on and off to college. But thanks to the workshop, she got serious about finishing her degree in public health. She also became a co-trainer for the workshops. She works at DisAbility Resources of Southwest Washington as a community services coordinator.

"Now I am serious about my education. I know I need that degree," said Brittain.

The free two-day workshops are for people with disabilities to help them develop the confidence and skills to lead a healthy and happy life, explained Beth Morrell, coordinator for the OHSU Healthy Lifestyles Evaluation Project. The workshops discuss emotional, physical and spiritual health and health through meaningful activities. Participants also engage in yoga, nonimpact aerobics and chair massages. They also fill out a "Dream Page," listing their goals. One man with HIV wanted to be able to drive again. He learned about the resources available and is now driving. A woman who had diabetes wanted to lose weight and eat more healthfully. She has lost weight and is feeling healthier. A man with cerebral palsy wanted to make greeting cards. His cards are now selling in a neighborhood gift shop.

Those who come to the workshops have a variety of disabilities and range in age from 18 to 65. There are people with cerebral palsy, brittle bone disease, autism, visual impairment, hearing impairment and developmental disabilities.

"The workshop project has been so successful that other states are calling us to set up similar programs," Morrell said.

The project is in the first year of a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. The project is set up to evaluate the effectiveness of the Healthy Lifestyles workshops for people with disabilities. The workshops are sponsored by the Oregon Office on Disability and Health at OHSU Child Development and Rehabilitation Center and by Independent Living Resources.

There are more than 759,000 people in Oregon with disabilities, according to the 2001 Oregon Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

The next workshop is scheduled for June 25 - 27 at Independent Living Resources, 600 N.E. Eighth, Gresham. Additional workshops are planned for Portland, Eugene and Vancouver. For more information contact Nasreen Abdullah, graduate research assistant for the Healthy Lifestyles Evaluation Project, at 503 494-3642, or abdullah@ohsu.edu.

###