Amy Pinder is the executive director of Accessible Festivals, a nonprofit that is dedicated to making music and recreation accessible to people of all abilities. She is also a speech-language therapist with a private practice that focuses on combining recreational activities to make learning and improving communication skills a whole lot of fun. Accessible Festivals started as an idea to produce music and wellness festivals that were inclusive and accessible. Amy had the idea brewing for a long time, and then she met another woman named Leah Barron at a music festival. Leah Barron is a live music lover, special education teacher, and yoga instructor. Leah and Amy connected over the realization that they had the same idea, and set out to do their project together.
In exploring organizations that aligned with their idea they found Accessible Festivals which was founded by Austin Whitney. Austin was inspired to make live music more accessible, and he uses his own personal experiences to create practical accessible experiences such as music festivals and various events. Austin was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident, and he found music to be a healing and rejuvenating experience, and wanted to share this with others. Amy and Leah found Austin and decided to work together instead of separately to grow Accessible Festivals. Accessible Festivals is a non-profit organization dedicated to making music and recreation accessible to all abilities. What is the most rewarding thing about working with Accessible Festivals?
“Being able to provide someone with a safe space and letting people know they are welcome and accepted, in a recreational space that might not have otherwise been possible for them. Favorite moments are the little moments of someone being really comfortable because of a service they provided. Even if it’s just to be there when otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to be there. They enabled them to have a positive experience.” Accessible Festivals gives those
with disabilities the ability to experience music festivals and other events at an enjoyable level that meets their needs. This organization provides possibilities to include everyone where they may not have had the opportunity to experience an event prior to the help of Accessible Festivals. Amy Pinder says the most rewarding thing is to help give those experiences to all walks of life: bringing joy to everyone.
In addition to working with Accessible Festivals, Amy Pinder has her own speech-language therapy private practice where she focuses on the importance of play. Amy started out by having a vision and a goal of helping others. She worked for a private school as a special education teacher although she found it wasn’t a good fit. She found an alternative job homeschooling children with Autism. Amy has always had the vision for a space where people with Autism could come and learn. Working as a homeschool teacher helped Amy figure it out on her own, she couldn’t follow anyone else’s rule. She wanted to run things her own alternative way. Amy proceeded to get her master’s degree in speech-language therapy and then went back to working at a private alternative school for five years. She tried her best there and learned a lot. Ultimately Amy realized she needed to be her own boss and started her private practice and working with Accessible Festivals.
In Amy’s private practice she uses the concept of flow. Flow is a psychological concept created by Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, he describes flow as a state of complete immersion in an activity. Amy Pinder states “Flow is the optimal state of learning because it’s a state where we are doing something fully, willingly, and joyfully.” Amy discovered the concept of flow when she read about it in a textbook and it sounded nice. The examples listed in the book were activities like running, dancing, and music. Amy never experienced a state of flow until she picked up a hula hoop and learned how to dance with it. This was her aha moment.
There was something about the hula hoop prop that really resonated with her. The use of a prop is a great tool to help everyone find a flow state. Amy calls this a flow prop and she finds that it may be different for everyone, but it is helpful in achieving that mental state of optimal learning. Amy will integrate props such as hula hoops, juggling balls, scarfs, and ribbons into her therapy. Sometimes she teaches hula hoop lessons and other types of circus classes. There is a lot of play-based movement such as yoga in her work. Yoga is great for facilitating creative thinking, problem solving, storytelling, and creative expression using the body. Yoga can work really well for some people, and for others a hula hoop or a different prop will help someone understand how their body moves in a particular way. Amy incorporates yoga with props in a creative and therapeutic way.
Amy took her first yoga class in college and found it was the first structured class she enjoyed. Amy grew up dancing but had a difficult time following the routine and structure of a dance class. Flow props were significantly more fun for Amy, she enjoyed being able to interpret her own movement instead of following someone else’s routine. “I loved the flow of yoga and the idea that you can connect poses, the encouragement to listen to your body and do what feels best for it. The cues: do what’s best for you, stop where it feels good, I never heard anything like this before. So, it was interesting, and I wanted to learn more.” Amy continued taking yoga classes and eventually became certified as a children’s yoga instructor, and now she integrates yoga into therapy. She maintains her personal practice and often participates in yoga workshops. Not everyone feels they want to or can do yoga. They feel it isn’t for them. Almost every single client refuses yoga, and Amy implements it in a different way based on how they are feeling. Yoga is all about mindfulness, doing what’s best for your body, and connecting. Amy works towards making it accessible to kids and adults who may not have come to yoga on their own.
How do you tell what will work best for a student?
Amy starts with an informal assessment allowing free play and allowing the kid/adult to explore the space. She informs the parents/caretakers/families that during the first few sessions it may not look like she’s doing much because she is observing as the client plays and explores. Amy believes she can get a lot of information just by observing, interacting, and following her client’s interests and seeing what they gravitate towards. Within the space, there are yoga mats, hula hoops, an aerial yoga swing, juggling balls, feathers, scarves, and ribbons. Amy watches to see what the student goes towards, then she interacts with them and expands on what they’re doing, and then she has really good information on what their interests are and what created a spark for them. Amy says “It’s all about finding what sparks for them. Finding a flow when we have a spark of joy that can allow us to focus/expand skills doing something joyful/motivating.”
What is the best thing about being a speech therapist/teacher/mentor?
“I chose speech-language therapy because I know that we all have a voice, we all have something to say, I believe that every human was put on this planet for a purpose of some kind so everybody has a message to share or a set of inner beliefs that you know that others around them would benefit from hearing about but not everybody has an easy time expressing themselves, so I really believe that we need to regulate in order to communicate. First and foremost. Helping people find a state of regulation. So that they can cultivate self-awareness that they can translate to self-expression is powerful and I’m thankful to help individuals do that and to help families see it in a different way, a new concept, and other professionals to understand this concept.” Amy Pinder continues to explain that “You can’t command it” meaning the old traditional teaching styles of “do this, do that” doesn’t work for these students. There is currently a neurodiversity movement happening that focuses on meeting one another halfway. “Neuro-typical and neuro-diverse brains both need to learn to better understand one another. Neuro-typical teachers can’t force neuro-diverse learners to learn in a particular way or match their communication style. It’s really about meeting each other in the middle and recognizing our differences.”
What inspires/motivates you?
Amy finds she gets to learn so much about herself through the work she does with each client. She believes in the importance of being regulated so one can express themselves and communicate. It is also important for the person working with the client to be regulated as well. Amy is motivated “to take excellent care of self so that I can take excellent care of others.” She is designing a life that supports her and her clients. A big part of this is yoga as a way of listening to self, taking care of self, and giving permission to take care of self. It is so important.
What advice would you give to others interested in a similar field?
“In addition to taking excellent care of yourself… realizing and working to really fully accept the importance of recreation and regulation because that is not something I learned in school. Often as educators, we’re taught to produce products- students get good grades, excellent test scores those are products, it’s about the process, not the product.” Amy also encourages the Flow state and is regulated by doing something pleasurable. Recreation and regulations are foundational, and they get overlooked a lot. “What do we need as humans? Have time to play no matter what age. That is how we will learn and grow.”
Any future goals? Projects/news you’d like to share?
Accessible Festivals has been conducting event planning training on zoom for all different walks of life. They are also planning festivals for 2022 and you can find out more at our website.
You can find Amy Pinder and her private practice at her website. Amy’s parting thoughts are “Recreation/Regulation in order to facilitate communication and education.”
Written by Konwalia Kotlinski