Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Home Away from Home

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Home Away from Home

Article excerpt

NYU's Initiative for Women with Disabilities provides holistic wellness services.

A participant may walk into New York University's Initiative for Women with Disabilities (IWD) at the Elly & Steve Hammerman Health & Wellness Center's Second Avenue offices for a nutrition consultation and come out having addressed other needs through a routine medical examination or a Reiki restorative yoga class. Social worker Alena Gerst maintains this is done through a holistic approach. "We are able to provide the best quality care by communicating with each other," says Gerst, who has been with the comprehensive wellness center since 2011.

From primary care visits to gynecological exams to acupuncture and even hairstyling, the center is a catchall space for about 400 women with physical disabilities in Manhattan. It works at preventing osteoporosis, heart disease, musculoskeletal pain and other ailments by promoting a holistic, healthy lifestyle. "Participants feel that this is their home away from home. And they come here and feel very safe," says Connie Lam, the initiatives program manager, who has worked at the center for 12 years.

"We started out as a [gynecological] practice. We started growing and doing a lot of wellness services as each year passed," says Lam.

Indeed, Gerst adds that treating the whole person is a relatively new trend in medicine, and the fact that the center has emphasized it for so long puts it ahead of the game. "Our center is really cuttingedge," she says.

As follows, the women are noticeably not called patients. "Our team meets and we really try to coordinate a plan of care for women that are coming in. This is not a place you go when you are sick - its a place you go for overall self-care and wellness," says Suzanne Hurtwitz, coordinator of the Young Womens Program.

"If someone doesn't show up for class, she's going to get a phone call. It's a real place for people to come and be able to socialize, and that has positive outcomes for their health," says Gerst.

The Young Women's Program is unique in that it is designed for 14- to 21-year-olds in the city who might not have traveled on their own prior to joining it. "A lot of them are coming from schools where they are the only student with a disability. To be able to come here and find common ground is a really important thing. [It is important] to get them thinking about their health and wellness at a young age and encourage them," says Hurwitz.

Through a survey that was completed in June, the center identified the top five skills that participants indicated they wanted to learn: creating a home medical file, accessing doctor's phone numbers, making their own doctor's appointments, carrying important health information and explaining their health care needs to others.

"We see what the outcome of our centers are through participant surveys, so that's how we plan for future programming and assess what we're doing," says Hurwitz.

Teaching the girls about resources, learning new skills from experts, and allowing them to share feelings and concerns are all part of the programming.

"They offer each other support as they take a lot of big risks in life," says Gerst, adding that things like moving out of their parents' house and striving for independence are often discussed.

This reliance on others can often take a toll on the self-esteem of young women, a study from the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities at Baylor University found. Taking part in the Young Women's Program means using paratransit alone for the first time and talking about issues they've faced with others. …

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