How Disability Awareness Month is Different in 2021
Since March of last year, everything has changed. Masks are an essential accessory, conversations happen 6 feet apart, and large group gatherings feel like a thing of the past. At the same time, feelings of burnout, anxiety, isolation, and loneliness have increased.
One thing the pandemic hasn’t stopped is Indiana Disability Awareness Month. It’s an annual celebration promoting independence and inclusion for everyone with disabilities. But this March, as we celebrate for the 30th year as a state, it’s necessary to also recognize what is different.
In 2021, 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. reported having feelings of anxiety or depression, up from 1 in 10 in 2019. While these challenges may be new for some, they are all too familiar for many people with disabilities and their families. Studies reveal a high prevalence of accompanying mental health conditions like anxiety or depressive disorders for individuals with developmental disabilities. This already vulnerable population has now been hit with stay-at-home orders and the disruption of education and other services.
Even though these challenges remain, there are ways to help. Our Behavior Management Consultants shared a few ways they have helped individuals with disabilities during the pandemic:
- Increase communication. Ask intentional questions about emotions and feelings. Are they upset about missing school or other activities? Give them space to share and let them know those feelings are normal.
- Engage in something similar. While public activities are still limited, look for ways to incorporate similar preferred activities virtually or at home.
- Provide tools for calming. Whether it’s deep breathing or fidget toys, find what works best for the individual and teach them how to use it to keep anxiety low.
- Get outside to breathe fresh air. A change in scenery is especially helpful when most of the day is spent inside. Take time to be outside and enjoy the fresh air – maybe even without a mask when it’s safe.
- Focus attention to keep anxiety low. Mindfulness based techniques like meditation or using the 5 senses to feel grounded can regulate emotion and increase awareness.
As you join advocates across the state raising awareness for Indiana Disability Awareness Month, acknowledge the additional challenges individuals with disabilities have faced this year. More than anything, let them know they are not alone. Do what you can to offer encouragement and support. Together, we can rise to this challenge.