Gardening with Disabilities

This month, the Garden has partnered with ASPIRO and No Limits on their “More Alike Than Different” Ability Awareness Campaign. You may have seen the signs in the Garden!

The No Limits Ability Awareness Campaign, led by ASPIRO, was started in 2016 with a goal of achieving greater understanding and inclusion in our community for individuals with disabilities. Why? Many people find interacting with a person with a disability intimidating out of fear they will sound patronizing or say the wrong thing. This is confirmed by research done in 2014 by the British organization, Scope. They found 66% of the public feel this way.

Additionally, a 2015 Harris poll conducted for Special Olympics and Shriver Media finds that while attitudes about people with developmental disabilities are evolving, opinions remain tied to the level of personal connection people have with these individuals.

“As an organization, ASPIRO sees this every day,” says Nicole Hoffman, Vice President of Development. “People avoid interacting with people with disabilities because they are afraid they may say something that is politically incorrect, or don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything at all. However, as the Harris poll finds, greater personal interactions lead to greater attitudes about persons with disabilities.”

The “More Alike Than Different” campaign shows the personal connection people with and without disabilities have through shared hobbies and interests, like gardening. Throughout the Garden, you’ll find h-stake signs supporting the “More Alike Than Different” campaign.

PC: Volunteers from ASPIRO help tend to the NWTC Partnership Gardens.

The Garden is proud to partner with ASPIRO, especially in the upkeep of plants and harvesting of veggies in our NWTC Partnership Gardens. As they have shared with us, gardening is a relaxing and exciting hobby for anyone willing to try it. If you have a disability, it can seem difficult to start because it may be overwhelming, but there are plenty of resources and tips to help get you begin!

Benefits of Gardening

Gardening has a plethora of different benefits for everyone, including those with physical or developmental disabilities.

Did you know that it can help grow self-esteem? Being able to work with your hands, watering, pulling weeds, and waiting for the seeds to grow into something magnificent is inspiring. Gardening can be a source of pride and a tool for building an independent life.

PC: Alex Verstoppen

Gardening is also a tool for reducing stress. Finding a way to deal with stress and anxiety can be challenging, but gardens are constantly changing and evolving just like us, so they can provide an outlet to redirect your mind to something productive and beneficial. The physical labor of gardening, even if you do just a little bit of it during the day, can help encourage a good night’s sleep.

Speaking of physical labor, gardening offers a workout without a gym membership! The different movements involved in gardening can help people with mobility issues and those who have a more restricted range of motion. Besides the movement, gardening tools also improve coordination and increase muscle strength. Just thirty to forty-five minutes a day can promote better blood pressure and heart health!


Being out in the beautiful sunshine also helps you soak up the vitamin D! Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for your body’s daily functions. It also helps produce happy hormones!

But remember to be safe, and always slather on some sunscreen before you head out.

How to Garden with a Disability

When starting a garden, whether it’s a out in the backyard or just containers on a patio, it can be bit intimidating, but you can make it work!

You should start by finding a safe, stable, and well-drained area and walking surfaces that provide good traction. Avoid gardening on a hill or a slant that can lead to your balance being off and tripping. You should also make room for wide pathways and work areas along and through your gardening area. Your pathways can be mulch which provides good traction, plywood which creates a stable hard surface, or you can stick with grass! If you use a wheelchair, walker, or have troubles bending and stooping, consider having raised beds and work trays to avoid needing to be close to the ground.

You can also use containers and flower boxes. These are easier to tend to because they are not as big and overwhelming as a large landscape garden. They can also be as short or tall as you need them.

Consider purchasing tools that provide mechanical advantages like easier to use handles, extended shears and handles, and even a pulley system. If you enjoy the look of hanging plants, you can have them fixed with a pulley system that allows you to raise and lower them for watering or pruning! Even a pole with a hook attached can also accomplish this task.

Want to Learn More?

If you have a physical or developmental disability and want to begin your own green hobby, but you aren’t sure where to start, consider these additional resources:

Happy gardening!

PC: John Oates Photography

Beyond our Garden, you’ll also find the “More Alike Than Different” campaign in local coffee shops, local YMCA’s, restaurant & breweries, on the Fox River Trail, bowling alleys, and more. The possibilities of finding a personal connection are endless so you never need to hesitate in starting up a conversation with someone new; regardless if they have a disability or not.

Afterall, we are “More Alike Than Different”!

Approximately 20 of the Garden’s 47 acres of garden areas have paved walkways (marked white on the map) and are accessible to visitors with mobility needs. Learn more about how you can discover the Garden in all seasons.


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