Wellness is first and foremost a choice to assume responsibility for the quality of your life. It begins with a conscious decision to shape a healthy lifestyle. Wellness is a mind set, a predisposition to adopt a series of key principles in varied life areas that lead to high levels of well-being and life satisfaction. 

A consequence of this focus is that a wellness mind set will protect you against temptations to blame someone else, make excuses, shirk accountability, whine or wet your pants in the face of adversity. (I threw that in to help you remember this explanation.) 

--Don Ardell, Ph.D., Living Well Center, University at Buffalo
red horizontal rule

What is wellness?

It's a word that's used a lot these days, and I'm sure you hear it all the time.
It's a buzz word almost, and traditionally, health and wellness have been thought of as the mere absence of disease and disability. This is known as the medical model, and the problem with it is that it promotes the idea that one cannot be well while living with a disability.

In recent years there has been new thinking in this area and it has led to the development of newer models of health and there are numerous different models.

Basically, the wellness model that people adhere to today moves beyond that traditional notion of health and wellness as being the mere absence of disease to the optional functioning of each individual regardless of current health status or disability.

So, wellness exists on a continuum and is unique to each individual person. Each of us defines our own wellness. It's hard to say, you know, you're well or you're not well. That's not the way it works. It's a unique thing based on our individual circumstances. And wellness in this view is also seen as a holistic concept. It's looking at the whole person and not just at your blood pressure level or how much you weigh, or how well you manage your stress.

It's not one thing; it's all of these things connected. Wellness involves the spiritual, the body, the mind, and the concept dimensions. 

--Carla Culley, Research & Training Center on Health, Wellness, & Disability
Oregon Health Sciences University
Graphic--red line to separate sections


Qualities of health and wellness from focus groups of people with disabilities

  • being able to function and having the chance to do what you want to do; 
  • being independent, having self?determination regarding choices, opportunities, activities; 
  • having physical and emotional states of well?being; and 
  • not being held back by pain. 
At the end of the day, if I feel like I've accomplished something and been able to meet--not necessarily set goals--but things I felt were important to accomplish. Then I feel like I had a well day.

* * *
I think healthy has to do with if you're. . .going towards goals that you want to achieve in life or if you're just settling for. . .this is it', if you're doing what you want to do and going in the direction you want to go, you're pretty much healthy.

* * *
It's a little hard, having grown up in this society, it's a little hard for me not to separate mental health from physical health, but I think they absolutely go together.

* * *
Well, for me, it [health and wellness] encompasses several things: physical health, emotional health, spiritual health. So when I look at health and wellness, I look at those three . . . and try to look at nurturing myself in all three areas to make sure that I'm up to par in all those areas. And when I feel that I have a good balance in these three areas, I feel that I've achieved a good level of health and wellness.

* * *
My idea of healthy is severity of pain. If it's high--very high, I'm not feeling well. If it's real low, then . . . I'm in a good position.

* * *
. . .post-injury, you still have to cope with health and wellness issues that you would if you're able bodied. I still have periodontal disease. I still have a heart problem. . .and [it's] in conjunction with other problems that are normally associated with spinal cord injury, you know, pain, infection, ability to do things.

* * *

My experience being disabled and talking to other disabled people has been what we just described, and that is that my health and well-being is always on a fluctuation continuum, not because I'm disabled, but because I'm a human being. 

from Definitions of Health and Wellness for Persons with Long-Term Disability
Mary Oschwald and Laurie Powers
Rehabilitation Research and Training Center 
Health, Wellness, & Disability
Oregon Health and Science University 


Graphic--red line to separate sections

Unique Issues of Health and Wellness for Persons with Disabilities 

from Definitions of Health and Wellness for Persons with Long-Term Disability
Mary Oschwald and Laurie Powers 
Rehabilitation Research and Training Center 
Health, Wellness, & Disability
Oregon Health and Science University 


We propose that there are at least four major components of health and wellness for persons with physical impairments and disabilities including traditional elements like mind, body, spirit, and context. 

Context includes environmental factors such as culture, community, physical environment, family, social networks and social history. Our research shows that individual factors include: 
pain management social contribution
rest consumer knowledge
exercise personal growth and development
nutrition health management
weight social support
skin care employment
medication school
bodily functioning accessibility accommodation
sexuality personal assistant services
aging housing
attitude transportation 
identity knowledge and sensitivity of others, including
health care providers
beliefs alternative/complementary medicine

We believe that many components and factors of health and wellness are intertwined. Therefore, research, training, practice, and policy should utilize a comprehensive model of health and wellness that incorporates elements of the person and the physical and social environments of the community when addressing health and wellness issues among persons with physical impairments and disabilities.

Toward a National Agenda on
Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities
A Position Paper of the RRTC Consortium on 
Health and Wellness for Persons with Long-Term Disabilities
red horizontal rule

©2002 ILRU Program. All rights reserved.

red horizontal rule

ILRU is a program of The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR), and is affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine. This Web site was developed and is supported in part by Baylor College of Medicine. ILRU is supported in part by public and private funding agencies including the U.S. Department of Education--National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA)--and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. See individual project descriptions for further information on these organizations.