This holiday season, disability shouldn’t stop anyone from having a great time with friends and family. Here are six simple things you can do to make your gathering fun, accessible, and inclusive for people of all abilities.
It’s that time of year for holiday parties! Time to celebrate the year that was and look forward to the year ahead with the people who are near and dear to our hearts.
Whether you’re hosting a big party or having friends over for dinner, each gathering is an opportunity to include people with disabilities.
For everyone to have fun and feel welcome at your event, follow these tips:
1. Make sure your home or event venue is physically accessible.
By making an effort to make your home or event venue more accessible to mobility aids, you’re taking a step towards creating an inclusive environment for everyone to enjoy themselves.
Here are some specific tips to help out:
- Make sure there are plenty of mobility-accessible routes throughout your home or event venue.
If you’re hosting a party at your house, clear any clutter from doorways and hallways so people can move easily through the space. Consider removing obstacles like big potted plants or furniture, too – or at least re-positioning furniture so it doesn’t obstruct movement. For party venues outside the home, call ahead of time to ensure they can provide large, accessible spaces and can accommodate mobility aids such as wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes, crutches, and prosthetic and orthotic devices.
- Don’t have a ramp? Consider renting one.
If you don’t already have a wheelchair ramp in your home, a quick search online should lead you to temporary wheelchair ramps for rent. Many event venues already have ramps in place but some may not; consider choosing a different venue if they are unable to provide disability access.
- Create designated seating areas.
You can create seating spaces by a window or near the Christmas tree in the living room so people who use wheelchairs don’t have to travel extra distances to enjoy themselves at your event.
- Ensure parking access for outdoor events.
If you’re hosting an event outside, make sure there’s easy access to street parking that won’t require a ramp—attendees might be driving vans or other vehicles equipped with ramps for their loved ones with disabilities.
- Print out a layout of your home or event venue to send to guests so they’ll have a better idea of how they can move about. And then put up clear, visible signs to point to where critical areas are like bathrooms, stairs, etc.
This helps make sure attendees know whether there are stairs and how many, whether there is an accessible bathroom on the first floor or at least one accessible bathroom on the floor where your party is, and other information that might come in handy to guests who need assistance. Without ramps or elevators, it might be difficult for everyone to enjoy all of your party spaces, so letting attendees know the layout ahead of time and putting up signs is always a good idea.
Aside from physical accessibility, you must also carefully consider if your guests require accommodations for visual, auditory, learning/cognitive, sensory disabilities, etc.
It’s important that you take time in advance of your gathering to plan out any accommodations required by your guests and ensure that their specific needs can be met during the event. In addition, you should be aware of what services are available in case of an emergency and who is available in the event of an accident or injury.
2. Remain flexible in the event schedule and activities.
You should always be prepared to change plans if necessary. If someone needs to leave early, let them know that they’re free to do so. Or if they need to stay longer than anticipated, that’s fine too!
You can also ask friends and family for games/activities suggestions ahead of time so everyone will feel included. But don’t assume that everyone will want to participate in everything you have planned. People may not want to dance or play games, for example, but they might enjoy watching others do it instead.
You may want to consider multiple ways of communicating with your guests, including text messages, email, social media, phone calls, etc. You could even create an online guest list where you can receive RSVPs from people who plan to attend the event and can note what accommodations they might need ahead of time. The same guest list can include their suggestions for what activities they prefer or activities that they may not be able to participate in. This way, you can provide a fun, inclusive environment for everyone without having to ask in person when you see them.
3. Provide food options for all diets and food sensitivities (including diet preferences related to religious holidays).
Whether you’re hiring a caterer or cooking up a holiday feast yourself, check your guest list ahead of time and make sure to ask about food preferences or dietary requirements.
Some guests may also feel more comfortable bringing their own pre-prepped meals, so make sure you let them know that that’s okay, too. If you’re having a potluck, provide vegan dishes, gluten-free options, etc. You can also provide adaptive eating utensils for those who need them, and label foods with an ingredient list for those with allergies or dietary restrictions.
Clear communication with your guests and their caregiving partners well before your party will ensure that guests will be provided with safe dietary options. You can create a Google document (or any other shared document) where each guest can list down their specific dietary needs.
Another great idea is to keep the party allergy-safe from strong-smelling scents and chemicals.
For those who are sensitive to chemicals, perfumes, and other smells, the holiday season can be a particularly tough time. The traditional scents of pine and cinnamon permeate the air. Some may find this pleasing and festive but others find it leads to skin or respiratory reactions.
Here are some tips for preparing your home for potential allergies.
- Clearly communicate with guests that you’d like to be notified of any allergies pertaining to scents, pollen, and other chemicals.
- Consider avoiding the use of scented candles, incense, or fragrant cleaning products inside your home. There are candles made from natural waxes or soy candles instead of paraffin candles, and all kinds of fragrance-free cleaning products.
- For outdoor parties, clearly communicate this with your guests and their respective caregiving partners so they can prepare ahead of time should they need to take allergy medication.
4. Include caregiving partners in the planning process.
It’s wise to include caregiving partners as you plan so they know what to expect when they arrive at your house for the event and what support they might need (e.g., help to carry items inside, specific dietary needs, seating arrangements, accessibility accommodations, etc.).
To ensure everyone is comfortable at your party, start the planning party early! Let caregivers know well ahead of time when you’ll be having the event so that they have the opportunity to plan ahead and make any necessary arrangements with their families and other obligations so that they – and the person they’re caring for – can attend without stress.
5. Be mindful of guest preferences regarding music volume (especially if someone has hearing impairments or specific sensory needs) or other noise levels (e.g., children running around).
Amid the hustle and bustle of your celebrations, one of the best ways to make each person feel more comfortable is to provide them with a quiet space. Your attendees will likely appreciate the chance to break out of the crowd, whether it’s to chat one-on-one or just find a place to recharge.
It’s not always easy to anticipate who might appreciate time away from the crowd, but there are some general guidelines that can help you plan ahead.
For instance, if someone has hearing loss or sensory needs, they might prefer a quieter environment or one without music or other noise.
In addition, it never hurts to have some type of “quiet space” available such as a room with soft lighting and no distractions such as TV or loud music. Having a designated spot can actually be beneficial for everyone; the person who needs quiet can go there, but others may use it as an excuse to get away from the bustle of the party for a moment so they can gather their thoughts or get some rest before rejoining the group.
6. Keep the party conversations respectful, inclusive, and sensitive to the needs of others.
Holiday parties often bring individuals together from all areas of life. Because not everyone will share the same experience of day-to-day life, it’s helpful to keep in mind the following inclusive conversational practices to ensure a respectful event:
- If you’re talking to an individual with a disability, don’t start conversations by asking about their disability or potential health issues. Follow their lead, and if it naturally flows into your conversation, great!
- Remain respectful and sensitive even as you ask questions, perhaps asking what they’re most excited about or looking forward to this season.
- Refrain from cracking distasteful or inappropriate language that could offend persons with disabilities and those who care for them.
- Never use someone’s mobility device as your resting place. For example, sitting on the arm of someone’s wheelchair because there aren’t enough seats. Mobility devices are an extension of a person’s body and should not be used as something to lean on or rest against.
KIT Advocates For A Fun, Festive, and Inclusive Holiday Season!
Hopefully, these tips will help you and your guests have an inclusive holiday get-together or at least give you some ideas on how to adapt your celebrations to be more inclusive. Instead of focusing on what’s off-limits for friends or families with disabilities, be mindful about planning celebrations that are accessible for everyone.
It’s possible to create a fun environment for everybody to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year! By including everyone in your festivities, you set an inclusive tone that’s sure to carry over into the new year — and beyond.
Since 1997, KIT has provided disability inclusion and behavior support training for over 100,000 teachers and youth leaders in more than 600 organizations. KIT training has reached all 50 states and 15 countries. Our work creates a “want to, can do, will do” attitude in staff. We give them the tools and support to ensure that every child who enrolls will be meaningfully included.
Contact KIT and our experienced staff will work with you to create a program that meets your specific needs!