disabilities Newsletter


November 26 2008 Disabilities Newsletter

Here's the latest article from the Disabilities site at BellaOnline.com.

We are blessed
When a loved one has a disease that could eventually be disabling


As we enter into the holiday season I am honored to present the following article to you from a reader regarding making purchases for the disabled at this time of year.

Kathy Strom is a mother of two and a grandmother of five who loved watching her children grow up and loves being a grandma. Kathy lives in Chaska, Minnesota. She loves doing most needle arts and particularly beading and knitting. Her interest in disability began in high school when a paraplegic friend could not get into events with his wheelchair.

She began working in animal facilitated therapies in the mid-70's. She worked one-on-one with a young man who was hard of hearing and had autism--training his horse to voice commands and working with him on equestrian skills. The stable where she worked also provided experiences to some of the most severely disabled children from the local state hospital. The children had the opportunity to ride on the horses--often laying on top with lots of people spotters. Kathy tells me that environmental resources were also used to provide sensory experiences. The texture of grain going through the children's hands, feeling and smelling the tack, touching and smelling the hay, feeling apples, grass, etc.

From horsemanship, she moved to working with the elderly and people with disabilities in dog obedience. She also showed vizslas for a few years.
Kathy has a BA in Sociology and an MA in Education with the emphasis in Therapeutic Recreation with a good sprinkling of Special Education.

Kathy is now on disability herself and has a strong focus on disability and disability issues. She spends much of her time researching the issues and pushing for advocacy and self-advocacy. Kathy is very committed to the political process and using it to push for better services for people with disabilities.

This year she rescued a Papillion which she is training to be a service dog for herself.

Purchasing Gifts

We are currently in the busiest part of the year for purchasing gifts for the people we love—both children and adults, buying the practical and the more fun gifts, and trying to figure out what to get for our loved ones with disabilities. I have had friends with disabilities, I have worked as a professional with people with disabilities and their families, I have a grandson with disabilities, and I have disability. For many in our community (people with disabilities, their families, and their friends) this is a very frustrating time of year.

One of the great plagues for people with disabilities can be weight gain. One of the great obstacles for friends and family may be what to get someone with a disability for a gift. Most of us like an occasional greasy hamburger, a box of chocolates, a package of homemade cookies, etc., etc., etc. Food is a great emotional soother in our society. It is satisfying to eat and it is satisfying to give others a special treat. It is also a great way to initiate contact with others. As the person who received 8 boxes of chocolate covered cherries one year, I would like to propose other options. In this article I will focus on gifts for children, and not just children with disabilities.

As a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, I had the opportunity to work with families with a child or children with disabilities. In the course of that project, we were able to see how difficult it can be to include all family members in recreation experiences. And, we targeted ways to assist people with disabilities to develop relationships with others that would be considered “able bodied.” I have also worked with community education programs to identify recreation opportunities that were not cost prohibitive.

I love to play. And, I love to look at and purchase toys. I am not alone in those joys. But when your child has disabilities, finding resources can seem rather daunting. Many parents are steered to the catalogs for people with disabilities. Often the toys are very expensive and disappointing. The other amazing thing is that the companies that sell these items may have disclaimers as to the safety and effectiveness of their items. They may also be selling items that are readily available in your local stores at much higher prices than what you can find locally. While these purchasing sources have their place, they are not the end all for children with disabilities. I would, therefore, like to offer some alternatives.

When looking for toys and activities for all children, there are some general guidelines to consider. Some of these are:

Purchasing toys that are safe.

Making sure that they are age appropriate (making a board to practice different skills physical skills rather than purchasing an infant or toddler busy box for a school aged child).

Making sure that they fit the abilities of the child.

Finding toys that may attract others to play with the child.

Buying items that are durable or that can be replaced without financial hardship.

Purchasing items that provide sensory attraction.

Purchasing items that will fit in available space.

I would first like to suggest that brain storming is great. During brain storming no idea is a bad one. The ideas that seem too far-fetched at first might turn out to be the most doable. What do you want for your child or friend? What would you need in order to meet that goal? What are other kids of the same age doing and what resources are needed? What might attract other children to want to play with your child? And, what are your own interests? Some of the following suggestions may get your imagination juices flowing.

I worked with a family with 2 daughters, one with disabilities and one without. The little girl with disabilities wanted to blow bubbles just like her sister. The typical bottle of bubbles with a blower wand did not work well for her. The bubble solution always seemed to spill no matter what kind of container was used. It was also difficult for her to blow into the bubble wand. The parents purchased a bubble blowing system from a therapeutic catalog. I believe it was around $20. It had a nice wooden base to hold the bottle of bubble solution. It had a special bubble wand to make it easier to hold. And, it didn’t work any better than the dollar bottle of bubbles they had already tried. (They do now have the non-spill bubble solution holders, but the wands are often difficult for a child with disabilities to hold.)

In my arsenal of toys, I had several mechanical bubble blowing machines. Some work on batteries and some with cranks. We did find what worked for this child and her limited hand and arm mobility actually made better bubbles than those of kids without disabilities. The solution was a bubble gun with a crank. Because she turned the crank more slowly, she got bigger bubbles that could float away. The other children only managed to get lots of suds falling off the end of the gun because they were cranking it way too fast. The look of success on the little girl’s face was incredible. And the cost? Less than $5.

Many children like bouncing whether they have a disability or not. And many catalogs have great, expensive therapeutic balls in various sizes. There is also a ball in the toy department that has a handle and bounces in a similar manner to the therapeutic balls. The therapeutic balls hold interest for children without disabilities for a short time. They have rather limited use. The Hippity Hop ball from the toy department can be used for more dramatic bouncing because it has a handle. It can also be moved in different directions because of the handle. It’s fairly small, so falling off has fewer risks. Some even come with covers that are animal heads or have an animal head for the handle to replicate riding a horse or whatever. The ball from the toy department typically costs about $10 to $15. The therapeutic balls can be far more expensive. The advantage other than cost for the toy department ball is that it may attract children without disabilities to come to play so that they can also try out the toy. Their coming to try the ball opens channels to develop a friendship for your child.

Frisbees are also very attractive to people of many ages. The traditional Frisbee can be heavy for a person with disabilities or a child and it is hard to fly. Some alternatives might be the flying disc for dogs that has the rope around it. It flies easily and the rope gives a little better handhold. And who wouldn’t like to Chuck a Duck or Fling a Frog? (The smaller ones are animal oriented with these fun little names.) There is a flying disc that is made with a spandex fabric stretched over a plastic hoop frame. It comes in many sizes and colors and almost everyone can get it to fly with very little effort. (My grandchildren also think they make great sun visors and necklaces.) Flying discs from the party favor section or the party stores also tend to fly well. It may take some hit and miss to find the one that works for your child, but there could be one out there that will do the job. I believe that I have about 10 different flying discs ranging in price from less than $1 to about $15. If a person can throw, one of them will probably work, although they may get new flying patterns like rolling on its side.

Balls come in an incredible variety of shapes and sizes. There are the typical rubber balls, Nerf balls, Whiffle balls, cloth balls, and sports balls. There are also balls with tentacles, balls that squish, and balls that are shaped like animals or objects. And, they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. There are balls similar to the spandex covered flying disc that are incredibly light. There are harder plastic balls that are made for pets and can take a beating from a wheelchair. There are bouncy balls that take little energy to set to bouncing. Some even light up when there is an impact of some sort. Balls are a great resource. The underhand throw is a motion that is used for many games and exercises. Once throwing the ball is accomplished it is fun to move on to throwing at targets, throwing through hula-hoops, playing bocce ball, bowling, throwing the ball for the dog, and other activities that you can think up. If your child cannot throw, you can try using some sort of at track to get the ball to where you want it. (Plastic rain gutters can be useful in playing bowling games or bocce ball.) The other great thing about balls is that nearly everyone can find a way to play with them. And, the more out-of-the-ordinary the ball is, the more apt it is to attract the attention of others. The different textures also create different tactile experiences.

One of the games that has always intrigued me is the Mouse Trap type marble games. You can get the traditional Mouse Trap where players try to win the pieces for the maze so that they can send the marble on its trip to catch the mouse. The game is great, but it can be hard to put together and sometimes you need the patience of Job to get things just right for that great roll of the marble. I have looked at a variety of games and sets that involve rolling a marble or small ball. They tend to start at about $50 for a basic set, which is cost prohibitive for many.

We have a toddler racetrack at my house that has held the attention of both children and adults for years. It is a simple concept of two spiraling tracks that are basically identical and 2 racecars. The cars are set into a starting area. You hit a lever and gravity causes the cars to race down the track. It is small and simple and I don’t know why it has so much appeal.

My grandson with disabilities came up with a new way to play with the racetrack. It became the track for marbles to go down. He pours the container of marbles down the track and the slope causes them to pick up a bit of speed. They then go all over the floor. Since marbles all over the floor is not very safe, we now build “fences” by putting foam floor puzzle pieces together on their sides. The fence then goes all the way around the racetrack. The marbles come down the track with the same speed; the puzzle piece walls make caroms for the marbles, and most stay inside the fence. The cost was one pre-school race track set that was under $15, 3 sets of foam floor puzzles that were about $15 total, and a can of marbles for $1.

The puzzles are also great because one set uses colors of vehicles to match one piece to each shape and to teach reading colors. We have 2 more sets—one with the alphabet and one with numbers that I believe were in a special buy for about $2 for each set.

With a bit of ingenuity we have taken found objects to make new toys. Now I buy new marbles for my grandson. We have the traditional cats eyes that cost $.99, “puries” that came with some decorations, some very cool pearly ones from a bead supply house for $2, and some light-up ones that I found on clearance at the end of the summer for $1. With the marbles being different sizes and weights, my grandson is also catching on to how gravity works. Because the racetrack is not as complicated as the commercial tracks that I found, he can do it by himself. His smile after they all go down is pretty cool. And it doesn’t require a television, a game system, or electricity! Just a grandma to help pick up the marbles so we can do it again.

Party stores can be a great resource. You can get little kid dress up sets in the department stores, but they may be cheaper at a warehouse party store. Often the smaller party favor items can become great toys. The bangle bracelets can become ring toss rings and can also be used with disc throwing skills to bring a whole new dimension to a game. The rings and other jewelry items can become game pieces that are easier to hold than what comes in the box. There are fun stampers and stickers that are not a lot of money. And with the prices, you can afford to go back and get a different variety once in a while.

In thinking of stickers, I am reminded of my daughter’s request one year for Christmas. She was three and all she wanted for Christmas was paper and colored tape. Santa was so amazed that he came to talk to me after she had talked to him. She would cut the tape and stick it on the paper to make her pictures. It was very creative, she learned to use scissors, she learned about dimensions, the tapes had different textures that caused them to work differently, and she was occupied for long periods of time. This is an activity she thought up on her own. It was considerably cheaper than purchasing stickers. And, grandpa had a great time going to all the office supply stores to buy colored tape and paper! (She does not have disabilities, but her brainstorming was great!)

If your child with disabilities can play games like Candyland, but it is no longer age appropriate, you can up-grade the game. Rummage sales are great places to find the boards for the children’s games. You can then glue on different pictures that are age appropriate for your child. Magazine pictures, scrap booking items, collecting cards, etc., can be found. Using a theme that is important to your child personalizes the game. Just glue on the new pictures around the necessary parts of the board, spray a bit of clear paint on to keep it nice, and update the markers with and appropriate trinkets, old chess pieces, or other found items. Or, if you are particularly crafty, paint a new face on the board. You could also use pictures of friends and family, pets, or places.

If your child likes puzzles, but cannot do ones with too many pieces or small pieces, you can purchase one with an age appropriate picture. Put the puzzle together and then paint it with watered down craft glue (Elmers works great.). The glue will dry clear. Once the front is dry, put a thin coat of the glue mixture on the back. Then cut the puzzle into the number of pieces you want. You may need to use a craft knife to score the lines for making the larger pieces. Use the existing lines from the original puzzle. When your child has mastered the initial number of pieces, cut the pieces again to make it a bit more challenging. By using craft glue, you can continue to cut the pieces apart without much difficulty. You can also change the face of a puzzle in the same manner that you change a game board. Cover a puzzle with a new picture and spread the glue mixture on the puzzle. Press down enough while working on the new puzzle to make the lines more apparent. Cut the puzzle from the back before you put glue on the back. It may take a bit of time making the cuts since you cannot see the cuts on the front well with the new picture on it. One of the great things about making new puzzles is that you can find used ones for little or no money.

Please visit disabilities.bellaonline.com for even more great content about Disabilities.

To participate in free online discussions, this site has a community forum all about Disabilities located here -


I hope to hear from you sometime soon, either in the forum or in response to this email message.

I hope you will pass this message along to family and friends.

Deborah Pipas, Disabilities Editor

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