Living Well with a Disability

Research shows that participation in health promotion and wellness programs improves the average person’s quality of life and overall health, reduces medical care costs, and lowers mortality rates. Living Well with a Disability is a health promotion and wellness workshop designed specifically for anyone with a disability or physical limitation.  As with the general population, people who complete the Living Well program report better health and quality of life even as they use fewer medical services.

The Living Well workshop is a ten week course grounded in consumer choice and peer support. It teaches people to use tools that help them continue or begin to do the things they enjoy. The healthier a person is, the more he or she can do. Living Well participants begin by developing goals that are meaningful to them. Then they make the connection between healthy behaviors and reaching their goals.

People who pursue meaningful goals are more likely to learn and practice skills for healthy living.

Living Well with a Disability helps participants articulate their goals and develop a plan to reach them.  It emphasizes healthy lifestyle behavior changes as a way to remove barriers and increase opportunities. Participants have achieved a great variety of goals, including arranging transportation to access community resources, changing their living arrangements, getting new jobs, engaging in new social and recreational activities, and pursuing an education.  In addition, Living Well participants may experience health benefits that include fewer health complications, increased physical activity, decreased stress levels, and improved mood.

Links to Project Publications Available on UMScholarWorks:

One-On-One Delivery of Living Well with a Disability   2014.

Tele-Health Promotion for Rural People with Disabilities: Toward a Technology Assisted Peer Support Model   2007.

Living Well and Medicaid: Better Health for Consumers–Lower Costs for States   2004.

Living Well with a Disability: An Update   2004.

A Cost-Effective Analysis of a Community-Based Health Promotion Program Intervention for Adults with Mobility Impairments: Living Well with a Disability   2003.

Marketing Health Promotion for People with Disabilities   2003.

Barriers and Best Practices; Marketing Health Promotion for People with Disabilities    2003.

Living Well Could Save 31 Million Annually   2001.

Readiness for Health Promotion   2000.

Links to Scholarly Articles and Abstracts:

Living Well with a Disability, a Self-Management Program Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Feb. 12, 2016.

A Financial Cost-Benefit Analysis of a Health Promotion Program for Individuals with Mobility Impairments   Journal of Disability Policy Studies, April 2006.

Health Promotion for People with Disabilities: Development and Evaluation of the Living Well with a Disability Program   Health Education Research October 2006.

Health Promotion for People with Chronic Illness and Physical Disabilities: The Connection Between Health Psychology and Disability Prevention    Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 1998.

Quick Links: Health & Wellness

Current Projects

  • Ecological Decision Support for Health Promotion
    Many communities across rural America are far away from healthcare services. Rural residents with disabilities may not be able to get to those services to address their healthcare needs. This project will provide a consumer directed health program to people with disabilities in rural communities that allows them to follow their own needs and interests for health improvement. Participants will use tablet computers and work with local Centers for Independent Living in order to participate in the program.
  • Healthy Community Living
    Healthy Community Living is a project to develop a multi-media health promotion program to improve people’s health and wellbeing that provides support, health promotion, education and opportunities for people with disabilities to succeed in reaching personal goals. It includes two separate curricula that blend in-person program delivery with online social engagement and website materials.
  • Resilience in Community Participation
    Employment, social support, health status and the environment influence a person’s ability to deal with difficult experiences. These factors also have an effect on whether or not someone participates in their community. This study will focus on rural resilience to learn more about how people deal with difficulties associated with having a disability even as they participate in the rural community.

Completed Projects

COMPLETED PROJECTS | 2014 - present

  • Pain Interference Patterns
    Because many people with disabilities experience significant limitations in their ability to engage in community activities (e.g., shopping, entertainment, etc.), we wanted to know how pain and environmental conditions affected participation in community activities. To help answer this question, we asked people with disabilities to complete 4 surveys over 18 months about their pain levels, environmental barriers, and participation in daily activities. About one-third of these people also completed six surveys for day for 14 days using an electronic diary that asked similar questions. We found that as people experience more fatigue and pain, their community participation decreased.


  • Consumer Self-Managed Use of Rural Healthcare Services
    In rural America, health management resources are not as available as they are in urban areas which makes managing complex health needs more difficult. One way of improving health status for rural Americans with disabilities is to use existing healthcare services that serve rural communities to promote effective health-related self-management.
  • Nursing Home Emancipation
    Many people with disabilities are institutionalized in nursing homes when they could live independently. Nearly forty percent of nursing homes are located in rural communities with limited access to services, family and oversight. Centers for Independent Living (CILs) have worked to move people from nursing home facilities into independent living situations with great success. Few people, once they leave a nursing home, ever return.
  • Peer Support for Rural Mental Health
    People with disabilities have poor access to mental health services in rural areas, a gap that may be decreased through peer specialist services. Peer specialist providers offer a variety of services to people with disabilities and share similar experiences to those they are serving. They provide peer counseling, advocacy and can help in accessing resources. This project developed and offered a peer support training program to Centers for Independent Living staff and peers to help identify and provide support for mental health needs among CIL consumers. Results showed that people sought peer services when they experienced an increase in mental health symptoms which subsequently were reduced back to normal.
  • Peer Support for Secondary Mental Health Conditions
    When people with disabilities experience mental health symptoms, participation in community life can be reduced. This study surveyed people with disabilities in rural communities to see what kinds of mental health conditions they experience. Implementation of a peer specialist training curriculum for CIL staff and peers indicated that people experiencing elevated mental health symptoms presented for peer support. Subsequently, their symptom levels returned to normal.

COMPLETED PROJECTS | prior to 2008

  • Living Well with a Disability
    The Living Well with a Disability workshop is a ten-week evidence-based program designed to improve the health and wellness of people with disabilities. People who have taken the workshop report better health, lower medical costs and improved quality of life.
  • Nutrition
    Good nutrition can be facilitated and supported by organizing the home environment. This line of research describes methods for assessing the environment and the ways in which it promotes healthy eating.
  • Secondary Conditions
    Health problems that come as a result of having a disability, such as high blood pressure and weight gain, can limit people from participating in life activities. This project focused on these secondary health conditions and led to the development of the Living Well with a Disability program.

Products & Training

  • Living Well with a Disability Living Well with a Disability is a peer-led health promotion workshop that focuses on improved quality of life through the development of a healthy lifestyle. Training is available.

External Resources