Social Distancing

Self-isolation looks different for everyone. Some of us live alone, some of us are working from home with a house full of kids, some even live with front line workers. Each situation comes with different challenges; loneliness, distractions, anxiety, etc. Due to their heightened risk of contracting COVID-19, those with disabilities may not get to see their loved ones. They may not understand why they cannot go to their regular activities or that their routines have been altered. This could result in increased behaviors, sadness, and sensory sensitivities. Here are some tips to handle some of these factors.

Staying Connected

For those living in group homes, supported living homes, and long-term care facilities, losing visiting hours means losing connection to family and friends. Phone calls are great, but nothing can compare to in-person human interaction. While you can’t bypass stay at home and social distancing orders, you can do things that are extra-special to stay connected. Video calls are more accessible than ever through smart phone apps, Zoom, Google and even social media platforms. If you have the means, setup regular calls with family and friends; play games, share a virtual meal or just have a chat. For those wanting to go the extra mile, send letters and/or care packages. Hand-written letters show extra care and give the recipients something to continue to read for comfort.

Staying Engaged & Active

It’s easy to get in the habit of watching Netflix and laying on the couch when you can’t leave the house (and a little bit of that is fine). However, for our mental and physical health, it’s important to find ways to continue some of the activities we love in our “normal” lives. As day services, camps and schools are canceled, the daily activities those of all abilities enjoy are on hold. The great news is, many organizations are still offering some activities online! You can get a workout with Turnstone if you check out their Facebook page (they are also providing other wellness activities daily). Every Thursday you can enjoy at-home theatre workshops, including shadow puppets, on the Fort Wayne Youtheatre YouTube page. Check out these activities suggested by YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne Adaptive Services. More traditionally, you can play games, take walks and take up new (and old) hobbies.

Staying Calm

Many feel more anxiety than usual right now, which is understandable. The best way to combat that is to stay informed. Everyone, even kids, hear about COVID-19 daily. Instead of shielding them from the information, help them learn the facts. Put the information into as simple of terms as necessary for their level of understanding. Ensure them that if everyone follows the rules, they will be safe. The Indiana Resource Center for Autism has great social narratives for situations from bathroom routines to schedule changes. Sometimes it’s also a good idea to just turn off the news.

We know that we missed many activities that those of all abilities can enjoy while social distancing. Let us know about them by tagging us on Facebook (@AWSFoundation) and we will share them as we can. Also know that there are resources to support your needs, Lutheran Social Services has an ongoing list. Follow the social distancing orders, wash your hands and find new ways to stay engaged.

COVID-19 with medical icons surrounding it

From the CEO: COVID-19 Takeaway

For many of us, our world has a bit different focus right now than this time last month. For me, it is working from home with my dog and husband rather than in a new building with energetic groups coming in and out at every hour. The focus is less on the path towards an inclusive community where people of all abilities can thrive and more towards a healthier one where we all survive.

Pandemic is now a word we live with and not just a board game. I have an early memory related to a pandemic. It was of waiting in line, as a child, to get a sugar cube to avoid polio. Polio created a legitimate fear that, before 1955, children were kept inside on hot summer days, away from swimming pools and water, to avoid the spread of polio in the summer that could cripple the healthiest of young children as well as adults.

I also recall as a nurse in the early 1980’s envisioning a hospital filled with AIDS wards with the single purpose of providing end of life care to that disease just being identified. Little was known other than the fact that it was terminal and highly contagious.

I have experienced illnesses that are now extinguished, or almost. Pictures of my siblings and me with chickenpox and mumps are part of the family slide show.

Over the centuries we have seen not only polio and AIDS pandemics but also Spanish flu and yellow fever. We have seen tuberculosis and cholera outbreaks that have killed more than the COVID-19 deaths of the last four months. With each we have witnessed significant social change accompanying these major health crises.

With the major cholera outbreaks of the 19th century we saw home bathroom designs transformed to include sinks with running water.

With the fears of the AIDS epidemic we have seen greater acceptance of the use of condoms.

I wonder what we will take away from this  COVID-19 pandemic?

Will handshakes and hugs be the greetings of yesterday? Will our families take on saving patterns more like those of the depression era Greatest Generation so they will be prepared for the next occurrence? Will we see less international travel? Will masks that cover the smile of a stranger be routine? Will we relinquish some freedoms for the greater health of the community? Who knows?

I do know that AWS Foundation will have to work even harder to advocate for the rights of people of all abilities. This pandemic has initiated discussions around value of life when there are limited resources. This pandemic has moved us as a community from almost full employment to double digit unemployment and climbing. Communication is happening behind masks and on visual platforms which will exclude too many with sensory challenges. Public transportation, already not as robust as needed, is even less frequent as people avoid shared spaces.

AWS Foundation has been proud to provide Emergency Grants to more than two dozen nonprofit groups across northeast Indiana for the last four weeks. All we know is that there is more unknown before us. But, as with the epidemics of the past, we are part of a world that moves from identification to treatment and, almost always, to primary prevention. I am confident that is our path with COVID-19. In the meantime, our mission is the same. We are part of an inclusive community where people of all abilities have a path to live as independently as possible.

AWS Foundation provides EAP services for grantees through Crosswinds Grant

The links for the sites mentioned in this news release didn’t get included in the PDF, so we have placed them below:

Crosswinds Counseling Information

AWS Foundation COVID-19 Response

Foellinger Foundation COVID-19 Response

News Release - AWS Foundation provides EAP services for grantees through Crosswinds Grant
AWS Logo

From the CEO: Judgement

In talking with someone recently they inquired about how I could help their friend who was waiting for approval for “Disability” for a medical problem. The same day I learned of a child who would be born with Down Syndrome. Each would use the word “disability” in their lifetime, but the paths would be very different.

AWS Foundation works with the community to make a more accessible Northeast Indiana for everyone. When we do this then anyone with a disability has the potential to benefit. The word “disability” is used often and means many things to many people. While both the friend with the leg amputation and the child with Down Syndrome are seen as having a disability, how they are perceived and judged in a community are very different.

I, too often, hear generalizations about those with disabilities including:

  • “I feel sorry for the disabled…of course we should help them”
  • “The disabled have the ability to work…cut their benefits and then they will have an incentive to get a job”
  • “People should have to qualify for disability every year”
  • “Most people with handicapped parking are just lazy”

The intent of this brief column is not to provide a primer on waivers or differentiate Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) rather it is to encourage each of you to stop and think before speaking or judging. Many disabilities are invisible. Disability can, and likely will, come at any time in our life. Some are at birth and some come later in life after years of crippling work that caused the disability. Some disabilities are temporary, and some are life-long, but every person, regardless of their abilities, deserve to be part of our community without judgement.

  • The person parking in the blue parking space may have limited strength or they may have a passenger you did not see.
  • The child you see screaming at the store may not be the result of a parent who doesn’t know how to manage a temper tantrum. Perhaps the child has autism and the store causes sensory overload, but parent needed groceries with no childcare options available.
  • The family down the street may have had multiple failed attempts with jobs or services for their child. Staying at home and getting regular monthly checks is a consistent income source that provides their only known secure and safe environment for their child.

March is Disability Awareness Month. I would ask you to do me a favor. Acknowledge that each of us has differing abilities rather than disabilities. Consider the thought that you may not know the challenges. I would ask you to stop before you jump to judgement. Financial assistance from the government is not a windfall but a safety net. I would ask you to search for a way to make your neighborhood, your church, your school, your workplace, your community just a little more welcoming, just a little more inclusive and just a little more accepting of everyone.

From the CEO: Promenade Park

Woman poses on a sunny day in Promenade Park with a man in a wheelchair.

Patti Hays & Kevan Chandler

A Park for everyone!  That was our goal for the new riverfront park that was being designed…and it didn’t disappoint.

In August of 2015 AWS Foundation made a $200,000 grant to the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne. With the $100,000 match funds from Lilly Foundation, there was $300,000 to ensure the proposed new park would be accessible.  But what did that mean?

In partnership with The League and with Turnstone, a focus group was assembled at Design Collaborative to review the proposed design as initially drafted.  In a room filled with experts in landscape architecture, planning, park design and operations a group of 10 individuals and their families,  representing a variety of abilities, bravely provided their ideas and critiques.  They each wanted the park to be their park.  In that group were individuals with visual impairment, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, Down syndrome, arthritis and other disabilities. Suggestions were well received and plans were redesigned.

Man hods white 3D printed map of Promenade Park for those with visual impairment to find their way around.

3D Printed Map of Promenade Park

On August 9th, the residents of the City of Fort Wayne saw what happens when the goal is to build a shared public space following principles of not just ADA, but universal design.

  • Kids will play side by side in the inclusive playground with a rubberized solid surface base
  • Concerts can be viewed from any location of the grass lawn for those in wheelchairs, or others with walkers or strollers because of the solid base
  • Every level of the seating at the riverfront amphitheater is accessible by ramps
  • Easy in and out of kayaks because of the floating dock
  • Doors to the pavilion spaces are all equipped with electric door openers
  • Accessible bathrooms include family restrooms within the pavilion and adjacent to the beer garden
  • Easy and safe entrance to the accessible Sweet Breeze canal boat from the south dock
  • Tree canopy trail has easy entrance for all from street level with gradual ramping and strategically placed benches for resting along the path
  • A tactile ribbon circumnavigating the park (along with a follow along 3-D relief map) for those visiting with visual impairment
  • Water features including a splash pad within reach for all
  • Even the worn surface of the iconic Wells Street Bridge was refinished to a smoother surface to minimize gaps and provide a less bumpy path to traverse the St. Mary’s River


The city park commission and area donors and businesses all joined in ensuring accessibility was within their funded area of the new Promenade Park.  Opening day crowds were, as we had hoped, representative of a cross section of northeast Indiana.  The smiles on everyone’s faces were the reward for the work of so many. A special thank you is extended to all who played a role in the park visioning, design, creation and implementation.  It was a truly collaborative gift for all.

Promenade Park: The Park for Everyone

We often say that when you design for disability, everyone benefits. Our new office is designed universally, but we also challenge others in the community to think beyond ADA requirements. Fort Wayne Parks added details to the new Promenade Park on the riverfront to ensure that all can enjoy Downtown Fort Wayne’s newest destination. With the help of a team made up of representatives from several disability focused organizations, they created a park that is truly for everyone.

The great thing about true inclusion is that many of the accessible features are not obvious to those that don’t need them.  A tactile ribbon runs along the path in the park. To those without visual impairment, it’s a nice design feature. However, paired with a 3D printed map of the park, the ribbon allows those with visual impairment to find their way. You will also notice more frequent seams in the concrete so that those who struggle with depth perception, such as individuals with Parkinson ’s disease, will not lose focus on the path. Even after heavy rain, the lawn stays firm due to a special layer beneath the surface that enables drainage. Those using wheelchairs, crutches, or strollers can easily access the lawn and enjoy the grass!

More obvious accessibility features are also present. The family restroom inside the pavilion includes a changing table large enough to fit an adult, respecting the dignity of all park visitors. Speaking of restrooms, two of the three stalls in the restrooms are large enough for a wheelchair and there are large restrooms on the back side of the pavilion as well. The tree canopy path is wide enough for those in wheelchairs to access the great view. Benches and swings are ample in the park, making it easy to find a spot to rest. A floating dock allows for the ability to hop into a kayak from a wheelchair and all docks have detectable warning strips for those with visual impairment.

Side-by- side recreation is integral to full inclusion, and this park delivers. The playground features accessible, as well as sensory stimulating play. The soft rubber surface allows wheelchairs to access each part of the playground while still providing a soft landing in case of a fall. Slides begin at the path so there are no ladders to climb to the top.  Large musical instruments create an inviting experience where kids and adults can make music together. On the other side of the river, a concrete wall designed as seating has wheelchair access at every row, meaning you no longer have a secluded section. The splash pad is zero entry, and is at the end of a stream that you can roll or walk up to cool off on a hot summer day.

Think about these features. How many of them do you feel that, even if you don’t have a disability, could enhance your experience in the park? Anyone with a stroller can take advantage of most of these features. Everyone can benefit from the lawn that remains firm. We are excited for everyone to make use of all this park has to offer and play side-by-side with neighbors and friends of all abilities. Join us at the grand opening on August 9th.