Are you a friend or loved one of someone who’s living with a disability? Are you hosting a get-together that guests with disabilities might be attending? Whether hosting an event at home, or another location, you can be successful in helping everyone feel welcome. Check out this helpful advice on how to facilitate accessible holiday accommodations that are inclusive and enjoyable for all.
It’s likely that each one of us knows someone at school, at work, in our family, and in our community with a disability. Disabilities affect every segment of the population—young children, students, seniors, and adults. Gatherings which allow everyone to move freely about to enjoy accessible activities demonstrate the true meaning of the season.
In equitable societies, people with disabilities are fully included in all community activities. As leaders in providing support services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, ALSO describes 5 ways to make your holiday gatherings more accessible.
Your guests with disabilities will feel more welcome if they sense your enthusiasm regarding accessible accommodation from the outset. Put a note in the invitation to reach out if there’s anything you can do to help them feel more comfortable and have fun. Provide detailed information on activities, games, and food that will be offered.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: Wheelchair-accessible tourist attractions and popular destinations in Oregon.
It’s often difficult for people who use wheelchairs or have limited mobility to navigate through the narrow pathways created by decorations, sitting areas, food/game tables, etc. It’s important that pathways are wide enough to accommodate walkers or other mobility aids. Some hosts draw a layout, so they can visualize any mobility problems that might arise.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: ALSO’s Lincoln Beach House – a great place for your next family holiday.
While planning a holiday event, try putting yourself in the shoes of a person living with disabilities. For example, if you were using a wheelchair, would you be able to reach the food table? Lower food and activity tables to accommodate this need. You might have a guest who uses an accessible van for transportation. Minimize any mobility issues by designating a specific parking place close to the entryway of the home or building.
Are the bathrooms accessible? Assistive devices like grab rails and accessible toilet seats are easy to purchase and getting less expensive all the time.
Some guests who don’t have full use of both hands may have difficulty opening gifts. Disability advocate and neurodivergent expert, Katie Carr, suggests wrapping gift packages using the pull cord method. It’s a fun way to be more inclusive!
Additionally, if you are hosting your event at a venue other than a person’s home (such as a rented space or restaurant), call ahead to the manager and ask:
Why is this so important? Some people have had experiences where they thought a venue was accessible by wheelchair only to find out the owner’s version of accessible is not the case. This might entail having the wait staff lift the person and their wheelchair up a short set of stairs, which can be terrifying experience. Alternatively, the owner’s idea of access might be going in through the back of the building where there’s a ramp for bringing in supplies.
Additionally, some people have their mobility devices placed out of reach while at the venue by staff. For instance, when a wheelchair user is using the table chair, wait staff then move their wheelchair elsewhere because it was “in their way” as the tables were all cramped together. Unfortunately, that then meant the wheelchair user had to wait to have their (often expensive!) mobility device returned back to them when they had to use the bathroom or leave.
To avoid situations like this that may put a person with disabilities at risk or in discomfort, it is better to find a place with appropriate accommodations. By asking these important questions ahead of time, you’ll provide your guest with disabilities with a sense of security and take the stress of those kinds of phone calls off their plate.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: Easy access with portable wheelchair ramps.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: Accessible hotel accommodations.
Dim or blinking lights and flickering candles that often accompany holiday celebrations can be frustrating for those of us with visual impairments. Keep all areas well-lit to make it easier for guests to get around and mingle with others. Provide game instructions and other written materials in braille, large text, or read-aloud software. Such software may also benefit people who have cognitive impairments.
Individuals with hearing impairments may have difficulties with music and background noises so often present during holiday parties. Establish specific areas or accessible rooms that allow for individual conversation and small-group activities. If younger people with hearing impairments are attending, storytellers knowledgeable in sign-language is a beautiful way to celebrate accessible holidays.
Those that are autistic and/or neurodiverse benefit from access to quiet spaces to help manage periods of sensory overload. Indeed, the loud noises, music and chaos of several people talking and laughing at once can be a bit unnerving for everyone. Quiet areas without crackly noises, blinking lights and sparkly tinsel can be just the respite all of us need. Additionally, be sure to inform the person who may need the quiet zone of where it is before or at the start of the event, so that they can easily find it on their own when it is needed.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: Accessibility guide: Meeting Access Needs of Autistic Individuals.
At ALSO, we encourage everyone to truly embrace the spirit of the holiday season by including your community members with disabilities in all celebrations. Once you get started, you’ll find it easy for such accommodations to become a natural part of your holiday preparations.
In conclusion, when it doubt ask people directly what you can do as the host to ensure how you can create a more accessible get-together, so that they feel included and welcomed. We are all a gift that we give to one another…share the joy! Wishing you and your loved ones much happiness this holiday season.
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