Kathy Bates

I planned out our whole day. First, we make snow angels for two hours, and then well go ice skating, and then well eat a whole roll of Tollhouse Cookie Dough as fast as we can, and then to finish, well snuggle.” – Buddy (from the movie, "Elf")

Even though I’ve never made a snow angel or been ice skating, I guess I’ve had my fair share of Tollhouse Cookie Dough! I love Christmas shopping. I often refer to it as my second favorite sport. That said, between sending out all the Christmas cards, wrapping all the presents, and decorating the tree . . . it can feel pretty stressful for everyone.

The Holiday season is a perfect time to gather with friends and family. Spending time with family members that you don't get to see very often is a lot of fun. But for some people with disabilities, it is hard not to feel like their needs have complicated this time of celebration. In this blog post, I will share with you a few of my thoughts on how to make holiday gatherings more inclusive and fun for everyone.

A man in a wheelchair sits alone on a deck attached to a house with white twinkle lights in the window.

It is always okay to advocate for yourself. Let your host know what your needs are. Generally, they want to make all their guests feel as welcome and comfortable as possible. For instance, if you have a food allergy, it’s important to let them know so other options are available. Or you can plan to bring a dish of your own to share with everyone.

Unfortunately, holiday magic can't take away the need for personal assistance or transportation (although that would be great.) Your loved ones understand this and most likely will be willing to help in whatever way they can; so that you can take part in the celebration. I know how difficult it is to ask for help, especially at such a busy time of year. This is why everyone's needs should be discussed and details need to be figured out before the day of the party. Planning will help everyone relax and enjoy themselves.

The Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who assist us daily are very important. Without the women who support me, I would not be able to live a life of my choosing or have a job. Their dedication is invaluable and letting them know how you feel about them is important. It might just be the best gift you can give them.

If you want to be included, then you have to participate. Take part in the Secret Santa! Bring some of your famous guacamole! Christmas is a time for sharing and caring, so show how much you care and be part of the fun.

Physical accessibility can be more of a challenge. Location is everything! If it’s too difficult to get in the building or to use the bathroom, then maybe the party should be held at a more accessible location. Remember that accessibility is more than just a ramp. It is about having the freedom to move around and have conversations with everyone. There is nothing worse than going to a party, only to get stuck in the corner where the only person you can talk to is yourself. But people who use wheelchairs are not the only ones who have difficulty getting around in large crowds. There are people in my family who rely on canes or walkers to get around. It is important not to leave out people with mobility issues. No one should feel invisible. Forbes has a great article on how to make your home more accessible that may be helpful to share as a resource with those who will be hosting holiday gatherings. 

You might think this next suggestion is a little silly, but it is my favorite ‘life hack’ (a strategy that makes life easier to manage). Scissors, tape, and wrapping paper are impossible for me to use. That’s why I love using gift bags or decorative boxes for all my gift-giving. There are so many beautiful designs and they come in every shape and size. The best part is that they are reusable.

From where I sit . . .

Christmas comes with way too many expectations. Disabled or not, you can only do so much. As I look out my office window while I write this blog, I can see every house in my neighborhood decorated with beautiful lights. I enjoy the view. Just because I can’t keep up with the ‘Christmas Joneses’ doesn’t mean I have to be a Grinch. Remember that our family and friends will appreciate whatever we can do. So do what you love and create the holiday traditions that work for you. I don’t know if a completely stress-free holiday exists, but I hope these suggestions help you relax and enjoy yourself.

Wishing you a very Happy Holiday!