A circular photo of Haleigh Black playing the violin overlaying a blue and white background.

Where are you from and when did you get started in music?

I’m from Cullman, Alabama, where I attended my first violin concert at the age of three. My mom says that I sat entranced throughout the whole concert, and when she said it was time to leave, I cried because I wanted to play the violin. That’s when I started taking lessons.

How long have you been with UAB Arts in Medicine?

I’ve been an artist in residence with UAB Arts in Medicine (AIM) since the end of 2019.

What is your role with UAB Arts in Medicine?

I perform in public spaces at UAB Hospital, St. Vincent’s Hospital and throughout the Birmingham community. I also lead group self-care workshops and conduct research to further the field of arts and health. My goal is to provide a positive distraction for patients, guests and staff.

What are some of your favorite things about working with them?

Working with UAB AIM has been incredibly fulfilling because I get to witness how music can improve people’s moods and overall well-being. It also gives me many opportunities to perform calming, uplifting music, which in turn leaves me feeling calm and uplifted.

You’re a frequent guest in NCHPAD Coffee Club. What have been your takeaways from your appearances?

I have had the pleasure of being a guest in the Coffee Club twice this year, leading musical activities centered around self-care. An hour flies by in the company of the responsive, approachable and kind members of the Coffee Club. Everyone has been extremely welcoming and supportive. At the end of my last session, one attendee said, “Thank you for reminding me to sing and listen to music. I feel brighter than I did an hour ago. I’ll be singing for the rest of the day!” The shared enthusiasm for singing and participating in meaningful discussions reflects the strong sense of community cultivated within the Coffee Club.

What music would you recommend to anyone for rest and relaxation?

For rest and relaxation, I recommend listening to music you enjoy that has a slow tempo and a simple melody. After I perform the jazz standards, “La Vie En Rose,” “Moon River,” “Skylark,” “What a Wonderful World” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” people have said that it was very calming, so if you are searching for relaxing music, perhaps you could give those a try. See if you are more relaxed by recordings with lyrics or instrumental arrangements without lyrics.

What music helps you relieve stress?

Music that helps me relieve stress includes instrumental songs like Lionel Loueke’s “Vi Gnin,” Pat Metheny’s arrangement of “And I Love Her,” and Claude Debussy’s “Rêverie, L. 68.” Sometimes, I just listen to low, humming drones or gentle rain sounds for relaxation which can be found on audio streaming services or online sound generators like

What does self-care mean to you?

To me, self-care means prioritizing things that help me recharge, relax and maintain a healthy, happy life. This includes getting enough sleep, eating food that nourishes my body, exercising, playing music, spending time with friends and family, and reminding myself often of everything that there is to be grateful for.

What do you think are some of the mental health benefits of playing or listening to music?

Listening to music that we enjoy boosts positive emotions through the reward centers of the brain, giving us a sense of being cared for. Humans have a long history of using music to cope with challenges, express emotions and seek comfort. Singing or playing music in a group can provide a sense of connection. Singing has been shown to improve speech. Holding an instrument and moving to create sounds can increase your ability to grab and hold items throughout the day to perform daily tasks like brushing your teeth or feeding yourself. Learning songs can improve sequencing and recall. Simply listening to music can reduce stress and anxiety, distract us from pain and sometimes decrease the need for drugs.

Do you have any self-care tips that involve music? (ex. Making a playlist, humming, getting active while listening to music, etc.)

Exercise to the beat of a song to help you stay motivated and to make the activity more fun. Sing more often. Learning an instrument or improving your vocal skills can be a rewarding form of self-care. Create personalized playlists that you can listen to when you want to relax or boost your mood. Practice mindfulness or meditation with soft, soothing instrumental music for relaxation. If possible, consider joining a choir, band or music group; this can provide a sense of community.

What is your favorite song to play on the violin?

Lately, I enjoy playing and improvising over the bossa nova jazz standard, “Wave,” by Antônio Carlos Jobim.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences? Have they impacted your style and sound?

Some of my biggest musical influences are Bela Fleck, Tessa Lark, Pat Metheny and Shakti. They have led me to explore a diverse variety of musical styles. Experiencing their live concerts has changed the way I play, the way I carry myself and the way I think about performing. Their influence has taught me the value of having fun on stage, connecting with an audience, playing music as an offering and embracing the ongoing journey of understanding music.

How can people learn more about your music?

I am in the process of recording a duo album with guitarist and composer Davis Little. Feel free to explore our musical journey on Instagram at @davisandhaleigh and connect with me on Facebook as Haleigh Black or on Instagram as @haleighblackviolin to stay updated on new releases and musical content.

A female medical worker holding a chart and showing it to a male using his wheelchair.

Mental Health Awareness Month is a crucial time to acknowledge the importance of mental health for all. But awareness alone isn’t enough. Millions of individuals with disabilities experience the path to mental well-being filled with a variety of systematic, physical and attitudinal barriers. Promoting inclusion and accessibility is important for all healthcare providers, including those who focus on mental health, such as counselors, therapists, social workers and more.

This year, let’s move beyond awareness and focus on centering accessibility and promoting inclusion in and out of your mental health practice. Seeking mental healthcare should be a supportive and empowering experience, and this requires a commitment of action from mental health providers. Here are actionable things you as a provider can do to start promoting inclusion and create a welcoming and accessible environment that ensures everyone has a path to participate in mental healthcare.

1. Assess Your Practice’s Accessibility: Start by evaluating the accessibility of your practice’s physical space, digital platforms and communication methods. Identify any potential barriers, whether physical or digital, and prioritize making necessary adjustments to ensure individuals with disabilities can access your services with as few obstacles as possible. This may involve investing in new physical accommodations like automatic doors or more accessible parking spots, as well as offering alternative formats for intake forms and documentation.

2. Cultivate a Welcoming Environment: Equip yourself and your staff with ongoing disability education and training to learn more about the spectrum of disability, historical barriers and best practices for providing better mental health support and services. This helps foster a culture of respect and understanding, ensuring everyone feels valued and supported while engaging in mental health services.

3. Create Financial Assistance Programs: Recognize that individuals with disabilities may face financial barriers to accessing mental healthcare. Offer sliding-scale fees, payment plans or financial assistance programs to make services more affordable and accessible.

4. Community Resources Directory: Compile a directory of community resources and support services that are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Include information on accessible transportation options, support groups, advocacy organizations and disability-specific services to help individuals navigate available resources.

5. Provide Accommodations: Be proactive in offering accommodations to individuals with disabilities to ensure better access and support. This may include providing sign language interpreters, offering assistive devices or adjusting appointment scheduling to be remote vs. onsite. 

6. Encouragement of Self-Advocacy: Empower individuals with disabilities to advocate for their own needs and preferences within the therapeutic relationship. Encourage open communication and provide opportunities for clients to express their concerns, ask questions and assert their boundaries.

7. Promote Participation: Adapt resources and approaches in sessions to encourage active engagement from individuals with disabilities. Offer resources and materials in accessible alternate formats and adjust communication styles to center participation. By prioritizing accessibility, you empower people with disabilities to take an active role in their mental health journey, which will help foster a sense of agency and ownership in the therapeutic process.

8. Collaborate with Disability Organizations: Reach out to local disability advocacy organizations to establish partnerships and collaborations. Learn from their expertise and insights and work together to identify and address systemic barriers to mental health care access.

9. Seek Feedback and Adapt: Continuously seek feedback from individuals with disabilities about their experiences with your mental health services. Use this feedback to identify areas for improvement and make necessary adaptations to provide accessible and inclusive services.

10. Advocate for Policy Change: Advocate for policy changes at the local, state and national levels to improve access to mental healthcare for individuals with disabilities. Support initiatives that promote disability rights, healthcare accessibility and funding for disability-specific mental health programs.

While these tips provide a starting point, as healthcare providers, it’s crucial to ensure that mental healthcare is inclusive and accessible to individuals with and without disabilities. This month, make a commitment to take action in your own practices to diminish barriers to mental healthcare and enhance access and participation with people with disabilities.

To deepen your understanding and implementation of inclusive practices, consider enrolling in our new 1-hour online training on Disability Education for Healthcare Providers. This training offers a comprehensive exploration of the barriers individuals with disabilities face when seeking healthcare, emphasizing the pivotal role of inclusion. By participating, healthcare providers will gain invaluable insights to foster an environment where every patient’s needs are met with empathy and understanding. Additionally, you’ll explore initiatives by NCHPAD aimed at improving access to health and wellness for individuals with disabilities, empowering you to actively engage and contribute to these efforts. Together, let’s work toward building a more equitable and inclusive mental healthcare system that serves everyone.

The cerebral palsy research network logo overlaying a light green and white background

In our latest partner spotlight we caught up with Paul Gross, President, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of the Cerebral Palsy Research Network (CPRN). Get to know CPRN and their mission to optimize the lifelong health and wellness of people with cerebral palsy and their families through high quality research, education and community programming.

What is CPRN?

The CP Research Network is the largest and most comprehensive collaboration of hospitals and community members working together to improve health outcomes for people with CP. We host the largest community and clinical registries in the US to gather robust and comprehensive data for research. We focus our research and consumer educational content on the health and wellness outcomes that people with cerebral palsy value most. We include the entire community in the research process, the development of education materials and the implementation of current clinical care pathways

How long has CPRN worked with NCHPAD?

Since January 2021.

What do you all do with NCHPAD?

We refer people from the cerebral palsy community to NCHPAD Connect for the MENTOR program.

What are some services you provide that people may not know about?

We provide education about cerebral palsy and engagement in research by the community with physician researchers.

How are you going above-and-beyond for participants?

We provide a place for them to connect with others who have CP in a private curated forum that also has clinicians available to answer questions.
We also give them multiple opportunities to participate in research as co-producers with clinical researchers or to share their lived experiences to help make a difference in the lives of people with CP.

What goals does CPRN hope to achieve for NCHPAD/MENTOR participants?

That MENTOR graduates will become lifelong learners of these well-being practices but will also engage with other community members to share the benefits of their experience with the program.

How is CPRN staying on the cutting edge in this field?

By partnering with the researchers at the University of Michigan, University of Colorado, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Columbia, we are working with leaders in the field of adults with CP and the role of physical activity in their overall health.

What can participants expect to take away from in-person or virtual activities at CPRN?

A sense of community and that their efforts are making a difference in the lives of people with CP.

How has your partnership with NCHPAD benefited CPRN?

It creates awareness about CPRN in the field of disability as a beacon for those with CP.

How can people find CPRN and learn more about your services?

Visit us at

United Spinal Association logo overlaying an orange background

When did United Spinal start?

We proudly trace our roots to the paralyzed World War II vets who came home to an inaccessible nation and made it their new mission to create a fully inclusive society. This article in our membership magazine New Mobility tells more about our history (Link).

What are your goals or mission?

Our Mission:

Empower and advocate for people with SCI/D and all wheelchair users to achieve their highest quality of life.

 Our Vision:

A world where people with SCI/D and all wheelchair users can realize their full potential and live life at its fullest.

Where are you located?

Although our office is in Kew Gardens, NY, we are almost all completely remote, with coworkers living in every region of the United States.

How many employees do you have?

We have close to 50 employees.

What do you all do?

We work tirelessly to improve the quality of life for wheelchair users, their families, caregivers and clinicians.

Tell us a success story. What would you like us to highlight or share about your organization?

Our organization is truly holistic when it comes to improving the lives of wheelchair users. From our advocacy efforts to improve air travel for wheelchair users to our direct aid for those impacted by natural disasters to the individual lives enriched by being involved in a peer support group, we’re here for our members how and where they need us.

When did United Spinal and NCHPAD start working together? What do you all hope to gain (or for your participants to gain) from this partnership?

I believe this is a new partnership. I look forward to presenting our members with more resources to help them become more active so they live long and healthy lives.

Tell us about your resources. Do you have a current resource campaign you’d like to highlight? What resources have been the most successful or important to you all?

Our Resource Center provides one-on-one service to wheelchair users seeking support on any aspect of life with a mobility disability, from rehab-related advice to help finding housing, personal assistance, and everything else wheelchair users need for a good life.

What are some resources or services you provide that people may not know about?

Our Advocacy Working Groups are wonderful. They provide practical resources in addition to systems change advocacy. Sign up for them here: (Link).

Three people standing in a room with exercise equipment around them. A young man is holding a basketball on the left. Coach Dave is showing him how many times to throw the ball on dry erase board. A young girl stands to the right in the photo waiting for the basketball to be thrown.

By David Geslak, President and Founder at Exercise Connection

When did Exercise Connection start?    

Exercise Connection started in 2010.

Where are you located?

La Grange, Illinois.

How many employees do you have?

We have a multidisciplinary team of 12 employees & volunteer advisors.

What do you all do?

Our mission at Exercise Connection is to break down the barriers to physical activity and exercise for individuals on the autism spectrum and related disabilities. Through research-supported systems, we empower professionals and caregivers to provide effective specialized instruction designed to support diverse learning needs and equip children and adults to lead healthy and active lifestyles, enhancing overall well-being, function and quality of life. Our goal is to create more inclusive exercise environments, schools and communities worldwide.

Tell us a success story.

Early on in my career, I thought I would have the ability to lead every person with autism to make the exercise connection. But I quickly learned the only way I could do that was by learning more, building a team with diverse perspectives and sharing that knowledge with educators, fitness professionals and parents.

The first story I want to share is about Kristen Kmack, who created Maur Movement after earning her ACSM/Exercise Connection Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate. I recently had a chance to visit her facility and meet the clients and families she has been impacting. She has over 40 sessions a week and her clients keep growing. Kristin is building something special in Albany, New York, and impacting so many.

The other story success story started right as the US was shutting down because of the pandemic. Sana Ghawas flew from Bahrain to the US in March 2020 to earn her ACSM/EC Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate in Atlanta. Thankfully, she made it home, and soon after she returned, she started Wonder Fitness a specialized fitness center for individuals with autism in Bahrain. In 2022, I had the opportunity to visit Wonder Fitness and also meet some of the clients and families she has been impacting. In a region of the world that doesn’t fully embrace those with disabilities, it was an amazing experience.

Kristin and Sana are the driving forces behind what they have built, and to know Exercise Connection played a small role is why the EC team and I wake up every day.

Tell us about the video series. When did it start? Why is it so popular? Do you have a favorite video?

The Autism Exercise video series started in 2015 because both Exercise Connection and NCHPAD wanted to provide evidence-based strategies so practitioners and caregivers could help their autistic clients or children in a variety of physical activity settings. At that time, there was not a lot of information available.

Over the years, we have heard from people all over the world, and they say it is so valuable because we are not only sharing evidence-based strategies with field-tested exercises but that the videos also involve individuals with autism. 

It was a long few days of making those 30 videos, and each one holds a special place in my heart. That said, I think Episode 6, “Teach the Body Parts to Promote Exercise” is one of my favorites. A few reasons why: When I first started working with Roan, not only did he not want to exercise but he also had very limited language. In this video, Roan takes the lead during the activity and it makes me smile every time I watch it. Secondly, I like this video because what we are trying to teach the viewer is foundational to exercise and often not done in our schools – unless the practitioners have earned their Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate

The words "Mass General Brigham Spaulding Rehabilitation Adaptive Sports Centers" overlaying an image of adaptive skiing

What is Spaulding?

Spaulding Adaptive Sports Centers (SASC) is a community and clinicalbased adaptive sports program located in the Massachusetts coastal regions. SASC is part of the Mass General Brigham’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. We offer year-round, in-person adaptive sports and virtual adaptive fitness programs to community members as well as inpatients and outpatients within the Spaulding hospitals.

How long has Spaulding worked with NCHPAD?

Spaulding Adaptive Sports has worked with NCHPAD since 2020. We were one of five organizations that piloted the MENTOR program.

What do you all do with NCHPAD?

Spaulding Adaptive Sports recruits participants for MENTOR and has a staff member, Hayley Brown, as one of MENTOR’s health coaches. Hayley recruits and onboards clients and implements programs year-round.

What are some services you provide that people may not know about?

Many people think they can only participate in Spaulding Adaptive Sports Centers if they have received care from one of our facilities. However, we are open to anyone in our community. We provide over 20 adaptive sports in three main regions of Massachusetts, including the Boston metro region, Cape Cod and the North Shore region. Our sports vary per season, including water sports in the summer, skiing/snowboarding in the wintertime, and year-round cycling thanks to indoor spin classes.

How are you going above-and-beyond for participants?

At Spaulding Adaptive Sports Centers, we are very goal-oriented, which allows us to make each session individualized to the client that participates in our programs. We want to know what each person values and is getting out of the sport/fitness session.   

What are some of your most popular adaptive activities for participants?

  • Summer/fall season: Kayaking, cycling, pickleball, outdoor archery and golf are most popular.
  • Winter/spring season: Skiing/snowboarding, indoor spin classes, adaptive swim, sled hockey and air rifle are our most popular winter programs.
  • Year-round sports/programs: Virtual yoga classes, virtual fitness classes, mountain biking, golf and cycling can be done year-round with SASC.

What goals does Spaulding hope to achieve for NCHPAD/MENTOR participants?

The biggest goal is expanding knowledge of community resources and empowering clients to take the tools learned in MENTOR to make healthy gains in their lives.

How is Spaulding staying on the cutting edge in this field?

We value research, training and quality care with all of our programs. We are pushing the limits of access and creating more adaptive programs as we see the need for our community.

What can participants expect to take away from in-person or virtual activities at Spaulding?

We value each person who comes to our programs and hope they leave our programs with a sense of enjoyment, accomplishment, community and a smile.

How has your partnership with NCHPAD benefited Spaulding?

  • NCHPAD Connect and MENTOR fall into Spaulding Adaptive Sports Centers Pillars: Education, Advocacy, Outreach and Research.
  • The partnership connects us to a national network of like-minded organizations and rehabilitation hospitals.
  • Provides amazing lifelong resources and opportunities for individuals who have gone through our programs.

How can people find Spaulding and learn more about your services?