"What are these women going to do when they retire and have loads of free time?" It's one of the questions Brenda Rossow-Kimball has asked herself, based on her observations working with people with intellectual disabilities in two group homes with very different philosophies.
"My first summer job was developing policies and procedures at an activity centre where people with disabilities were empowered to live as independently as possible. Since this was my first experience I thought that philosophy would be followed elsewhere. Not so," Rossow-Kimball says. "Later, I worked in a group home where women in their 40s and 50s asked me if they should take a nap or not. That led me to ask the question, and to explore what options for retirement are available in Regina for older adults with intellectual disabilities living in the community."
One of the resources already available was the Regina Senior Citizens Centre, which has provided activities and programming for typical older adults aged 55 and over since 1981. About 10 years ago, the centre was the first in Canada to hire a coordinator dedicated to providing support for older adults with intellectual disabilities. Rossow-Kimball served as the coordinator there for about two years.
"The literature suggests that people with intellectual disabilities are at risk to be isolated and lonely when they retire, so this program was developed to reduce that experience. However, we noticed that some older adults living in the community weren't interested in attending at the centre," she observes. "They wanted to be out in the community, and still do. So, I'm interested in those who live fairly independently, and in looking at what other services and facilities they are accessing."
Rossow-Kimball is working toward her doctoral degree, while lecturing in Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies. For her doctorate, she is asking some of the people she has worked with to create a story of their retirement. It's an open-ended process where the participants "take the wheel", she says, so that the researcher is distanced from the usual role as the authority. By removing the sense that they are being assessed, she explains, the participants may feel more comfortable in providing a true picture of the kinds of community activities they are engaged in.
Rossow-Kimball is also discussing the possibility of combining her research interests with those of her colleague, Toni Liechty, to explore the importance of body image for people with intellectual disabilities. During a practicum for students in her Adapted Physical Activity class, Rossow-Kimball recalls a practicum participant who appeared to take great interest and care in her appearance, as she accessorized her outfits with big earrings, strands of beads and decorative headbands. In some homes this independent dress is encouraged, she notes, while in others it is discouraged.
"We want to explore how important it is for residents of these homes to have that perception that they look their best, and have that bit of control over their lives," she says.
Rossow-Kimball is a board member of Creative Options Regina, an agency that provides residential and day programs for people with disabilities. She made a presentation at the Saskatchewan Science Centre in conjunction with "The Human Body" exhibit. The remaining speakers in the series are listed at: http://www.sasksciencecentre.com/here/exhibits/ourbody.html