Quality of Life Spotlight: Disability Partnerships

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on May 26, 2022 # Quality of Life

Tamara Maze GallmanEven before the pandemic, maintaining health and wellness could be an ongoing challenge for people living with a physical disability. After Tamara Maze Gallman sustained a T8 complete spinal cord injury from a 2011 natural gas explosion in her home, she struggled to find adaptive exercise options.

“I noticed gaps in my care and my ability to get healthy,” says Gallman. “I found it was difficult to maintain health and wellness outside of a hospital setting, and I couldn’t find truly adaptive classes. At one class that was supposed to be adaptive, and I couldn’t even get in the door.”

Gallman had more than 20 years of experience leading public health and health promotion efforts, including program development and partnership engagement. Determined to develop better options for herself and others who needed adaptive exercise, Gallman launched Disability Partnerships in 2016.

“As a community-based nonprofit, we use a collaborative partnership model to develop programs and activities in the focus areas of affordable and accessible housing, health and wellness, education and economic empowerment,” says Gallman, who serves as the president of Disability Partnerships. The organization successfully launched several programs, but with the onset of Covid, Gallman knew she would need to do more.

“During 2021, we offered 135 classes which were attended a total of 3,100 times by members of the disability community. Over 500 attendees were people with spinal cord injuries,” says Gallman. “The other participants have a range of physical disabilities with little to no mobility including some form of paralysis such as spina bifida or multiple sclerosis.”In 2021, Disability Partnerships received a $25,000 Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grant to support the “Health and Wellness 4 All” program, a series of free adaptive exercise classes and self-care virtual activities created in partnership with Independence Now, a local disability advocacy center, and Adventist HealthCare Rehabilitation, a large health system headquartered in Montgomery County, Maryland.

The Health and Wellness 4 All program includes live adaptive exercise classes such as adaptive Zumba and adaptive yoga. The program emphasizes awareness of health basics, including understanding health numbers such as cholesterol, weight, blood pressure and sugar levels, receiving annual physical exams, avoiding tobacco products, getting sufficient sleep and relaxation, and establishing regular exercise.

Thanks to grant funding, the free exercise classes are offered in six, six-week sessions throughout the year, with two classes held each week.

“While most participants cited improving physical health and muscle strength as the main reason for joining the class, the program had spillover effects for participants' mental health, with the majority reporting an increased sense of social belonging and networking,” says Gallman. Seniors with limited mobility also attend the classes, and several participants say that their caregivers have joined them in class.

Adaptive gardening.

One class participant stated, “This weekly exercising was/is phenomenal. The ability to have adaptive exercise as a full-time wheelchair user is difficult. This program has provided so much more than only wellness and positive energy. [The class] helped in the movement toward confidence in mobility. Our biweekly classes have also given a way to socialize with the current pandemic.”

Another participant living with quadriplegia who is non-verbal typed, “Just want to say, I'm so happy I found your exercise classes. Zooming with others makes it such a positive experience. Thanks for sharing this experience with us.”

With grant funding, Gallman also created self-care classes to help better support mental health for those struggling with social isolation due to the pandemic. Over 100 people have participated in courses for adaptive gardening, nutrition, mindfulness and meditation, sleep and pain management, self-defense, coping with Covid and social isolation and coping during the holidays, as well as a journaling workshop to help individuals address their feelings.

“We consistently receive positive responses from participants about how appreciative they are for the class, how much they enjoy the instructors and the benefit the class has on their body, mind and spirit,” says Gallman. “All classes are done by professionals in the field, and specific goals for the class are set based on the needs and abilities of the participants.”

At the end of each class, instructors save time for questions and answers and community networking. Participants are encouraged to share the good, the bad and their highs and lows. Participants can also ask questions about their difficulties with certain activities, and the instructor provides feedback on how to improve.

“The classes certainly build a sense of community. One participant continued classes while in a rehab hospital, and we all shared positive thoughts and prayers when she was released. Another participant had a surgical procedure, and we sent a get-well card from the entire class,” says Gallman.

Thanks to grant funding, Gallman was also able to develop a monthly Spanish language SCI support group which includes 12 participants to date. Hosted by a physical therapist and a volunteer who serves as a translator, the group helps address the issues and needs faced by this community.

“Our partnerships with Adventist HealthCare Rehabilitation and Independence Now have been instrumental in identifying participants who would be candidates for our programs,” says Gallman. Last year, the participant list increased by 30% through marketing activities, word of mouth and referrals.

With so much success, Gallman is grateful for the Reeve Foundation grant Disability Partnerships received.

“My goal is to create programs and services for people with disabilities who are often forgotten in the health and wellness journey,” says Gallman. “As a person living with a spinal cord injury, I understand what it’s like to want to be healthy yet unable to find the support you need to reach your wellness goals. With the Reeve Foundation grant, Disability Partnerships was able to minimize that gap and support the needs of thousands of people. Thank you, Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.”

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.