By Claire Trivedi
As the daughter of a parent with a disability, I have always been interested in accessible techniques. I am particularly attracted to Laughter Wellness because of its wide range of applications and modification options. Anyone can do it!
I also find that diverse populations help keep me creative, resourceful and open-minded. I led a laughter club in Washington, D.C., for several years and it was well-attended by elders with mobility and range-of-motion issues. I also led sessions for the Assistive Technology Department at the public library for people who use their services and have a wide range of hearing, speech, vision and mobility impairments.
Here is a quick list of five easy steps you can take to have more satisfying and deeply beneficial laughter sessions with people who have a wide range of abilities.
- Put the person first. Refer to people as “wheelchair users” or “a person who uses a scooter, wheelchair, walker, cane, etc.” or “a person with a disability”, “person who is hard-of-hearing”, “person who is Deaf”, “who is Blind” or “has a mobility impairment” instead of “handicapped”, “crippled”, “chair- bound” or “wheelchair people”. This is a fantastic technique for empowerment of the person, which is the ultimate goal of Laughter Wellness. You draw focus to the individual, and not their differences or disability.
- Capitalize on what you have. Just because a person has less of a sense or capability doesn’t mean they can’t use their other skills. If people are mostly Deaf, use resonance of stomping and clapping, use miming or mirroring, touch and games like “bouncing the head on the belly” and plenty of facial exercises. If people are mostly Blind, use activities that are more physical or that involve touch. Sing songs with “ho”, “ha” or “I love my body” with tapping. For people who use wheelchairs or have mobility impairments, just make your activities seated! You can get a full range of motion in all joints, even in a chair. You can use facial variations (smiling mask, blinking games) or sound differences (volume, type of laughter, animal laughter or percussive sounds) if the person has limited physical ability.
- Ask first before you help. Before, after, or during sessions, it is important not to take hold of people or their possessions, but to ask first before giving any assistance. For people who are Blind, always offer an elbow instead of pushing or grabbing. For people who are Deaf, get their attention first. For people who have mobility issues, ask if you can help with doors, dropped items, etc. It is always best not to assume that someone needs an accommodation- they may want to try it or they may be used to doing the thing you are concerned about. This technique is a great way to limit or prevent projecting your fears on your class or those with whom you work.
- Speak directly to the person, not the interpreter or companion. This provides for more intimate and accurate communication. You can really get a deeper connection with the individuals you laugh with if you speak directly to them. If there are no interpreters, use actions (follow the leader or call-response style), write notes beforehand or after (for questions) or ask the individual to repeat themselves (if they have a speech impairment or don’t use voice).
- If the class is mixed ability, do your best to create community and keep the whole group engaged, not just some. Gauge activities to the folks who have the more specialized needs. For example, if you have a class with some who are Deaf, show an example first before starting the exercise. If you have some who need to sit, just make sure the group stays in their general area or create inclusive formations of standing or sitting activities. For folks who are Blind, make sure you explain everything clearly, to everyone if there are multiple physical movements or sounds involved. Other ideas for this technique are: making signs large and legible for people with low vision, making Braille business cards, or keeping your club in physically accessible buildings with elevators or ramps.
I hope these tips help with deepening and enriching your laughter sessions for all members in your community. Enjoy!