Frontline Initiative: Health and Wellness

Supporting Wellness through Partnerships in Wellness


Lynda Lahti Anderson is a researcher at the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota, and a family member of a person who receives support. Lynda can be reached at

The logo of Partnerships in Wellness. The logo contains photos representing the four aspects of wellness: feelings, social support, physical activity, and food and drink.

Wellness is made up of our emotional, occupational, spiritual, physical, social, and cognitive well-being (National Wellness Institute, 2018). However, people with disabilities experience barriers that can make wellness more challenging. These include things like social isolation, stigma, poverty, and lack of access to appropriate healthcare (Anderson et al., 2013). When a person has a disability, the focus often ends up being on the disability and not the whole person. Wellness gets ignored. Yet we can all experience wellness. But it looks different for each of us.

Below are some ways that you can support the different areas of wellness.

Emotional well-being

Emotional well-being means understanding your own feelings, appreciating the feelings of others, and constructively managing your emotions. You can support emotional well-being by helping the people you support, naming their feelings, supporting problem-solving, and learning ways to manage emotions.

Occupational well-being

Occupational well-being means participating in work (paid or unpaid) or other activities that give us satisfaction, are meaningful, and use our skills and talents. You can support occupational well-being by supporting meaningful employment, finding volunteer opportunities that fit an individual’s interests and skills, or supporting an individual to develop and take part in hobbies and other things that interest them.

Spiritual well-being

Spiritual well-being means having a purpose or meaning in life. For some people, this may mean participating in organized religion. For other people, it may mean practices such as yoga or being in nature. You can support spiritual well-being by learning what is meaningful to the people you support and supporting opportunities to participate in spiritual activities.

Physical well-being

Physical well-being means taking care of our bodies through physical activity, eating nutritious food, and using preventive and other healthcare. You can support physical well-being by supporting people to participate in movement that they enjoy, adding more nutritious food to their diet (such as more vegetables), and supporting people as they advocate for their health.

Social well-being

Social well-being means having healthy relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners. It also means contributing to the communities we belong to. You can support social well-being by supporting people to belong to reciprocal relationships. This means that they receive care and support from people they care about, and they also provide it. This might mean supporting people to call loved ones or invite friends over. It could also mean supporting someone to host a neighborhood barbecue or participate in other community activities.

Cognitive well-being

Cognitive well-being means learning new skills and expanding our knowledge. Lifelong learning is important to overall well-being. It can also mean having opportunities to share our skills. You can support cognitive well-being by supporting people to learn about what interests them. This could mean visiting the library, looking online, or taking community education classes. If the person you support has a skill or interest that you don’t, let them teach you!

The best goals are easy to do – they are the most likely to be achieved. Change can be hard, and failing is part of learning what works!

Supporting wellness

You can support wellness for the people you support by providing information about wellness, and by supporting them as they set their own wellness goals. The best goals are easy to do – they are the most likely to be achieved. Change can be hard, and failing is part of learning what works!

Partnerships in Wellness curriculum

We wanted to provide people with a tool to do these things, so we developed the Partnerships in Wellness (PIW) curriculum. PIW is a free curriculum that can be accessed from . PIW simplified wellness into four categories: feelings, social support, food and drink, and physical activity.

PIW was created with three important concepts in mind. The first was self-determination. All participants decide which the areas of wellness they want to work on each week and then set their own wellness goals. The second was the importance of social support. Everyone goes through PIW with a wellness buddy. It could be a family member, direct support professional, friend, or partner. Everyone participates in the classes together, and each partner supports the other in achieving their goals. The third concept is that small changes done consistently lead to improved health and wellness. For example, when talking about nutrition, people have a wide range of cooking skills, but may have limited food budgets. One of the lessons shows people how to make microwave meals more nutritious. Another example is that starting to exercise can be intimidating, so we teach people exercises they can do at home without equipment. We also tried to make each session active and fun, and everyone’s favorite lesson included blowing bubbles! To blow a good bubble you have to take a deep breath and blow the air out slowly and with control. This is a great way to teach the kind of breathing that can help people feel calmer. One of the class participants observed that it is hard to feel unhappy when you are blowing bubbles.

Everyone has their own path to wellness. Remember that wellness is more than food and exercise. While those are both important to health, having friends, finding ways to manage stress and worry, and having meaningful things to do during the day is also important to experiencing wellness and living a good life.


Anderson, L. L., Humphries, K., McDermott, S., Marks, B., Sisirak, J., & Larson, S. (2013). The state of the science of health and wellness for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 51(5), 385–398.

National Wellness Institute. (2023). Six dimensions of wellness.

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