February 2, 2021

People with disabilities can often have poor physical health. For one Iowa organization, this means putting extra emphasis on finding recreational opportunities that include those with disabilities and creating fun ways to get active. Easterseals Iowa and Can Play have become a major proponent for the Central Iowa Water Trails (CIWT), supportive of the opportunities the water trails will provide to people with disabilities, fulfilling the organization’s mission to create a higher quality of life and promote health and wellness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 38.2% of people with disabilities are obese compared to 26.2% of people without disabilities, 28.2% smoke compared to 13.4%, 11.5% have heart disease compared to 3.8% and 16.3% have diabetes compared to 7.2%. By creating accessible water trails in Greater Des Moines (DSM), the 68,000 kids and adults living with special health care needs in the region have the opportunity to increase physical activity, experience a higher quality of life and become less socially isolated — as people with disabilities often find themselves. In fact, 17.2% of people with a disability feel lonely, and lonely individuals have a 26% higher risk of premature death. Loneliness has even been shown to pose a greater threat to health than obesity, and its effects are comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes per day, according to a study done by the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

For Easterseals Iowa, stabilizing their workforce can be a struggle, but with quality of life increases within DSM like the CIWT, the eligible workforce in the region will follow, creating new prospects for people with disabilities who live here.

Along with Easterseals Iowa, Can Play, an adapted recreation program serving DSM, Iowa City and Ames, offers programs for those of all ages living with a physical, cognitive, emotional or chronic health challenges. I co-founded Can Play after my son suffered multiple strokes at the age of 8, leaving him with both cognitive and physical challenges. After growing up in the region, I recently joined the CIWT Inclusion committee to help bring a voice to those in DSM with special healthcare needs. Specifically, through the Courage League programs, we’ve been able to show many who are challenged with special healthcare needs how to continue an active lifestyle, engaging them through community access points, including at Gray’s Lake and in Downtown DSM. Already, projects have served to create the ability to enter the water without barrier, signage and other programs and activities.

I look forward to representing your voice to ensure that every BODY can have adapted access to this project.

About the Authors: Sherri Nielsen is the President and CEO or Easterseals Iowa. Learn more about Easterseasls Iowa by following on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Melissa Clarke-Wharff is the co-founder of Can Play. She grew up in Des Moines and is a graduate of Roosevelt High School and the University of Iowa. You can find out more about Can Play by following on Instagram and Twitter.