Thursday, November 14, 2019

Having A Happy and Accessible Holiday

The holiday season is upon us. If your family is anything like mine, that means spending an extended period of time with parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other, extended family members. For wheelchair users like myself, it can be daunting or impossible to spend long periods of time in unfamiliar or inaccessible places. So, do you know if your house is accessible? Fret not! Here are some guidelines that will help you host an incredible, and accessible, holiday party.


Wheelchair users must pay close attention to their environment, in ways that able-bodied people don't have to. While planning your party, try to be mindful of mundane items such as paths and walkways. Though we usually don't think about these things, they can definitely have an impact your home's accessibility.
Lets face it, driveways made out of pavers can look beautiful; however, though they may look nice, keep in mind that they might be difficult for a wheelchair user to traverse. Tires and underlying fixtures of a wheelchair can actually get stuck between pavers. Gravel, sand, and soft dirt are a wheelchair user's kryptonite! Though some may look like off road vehicles, most wheelchairs sink right into pockets of sand. To best accommodate wheelchair users, concrete sidewalks and walkways are definitely the most accessible. 32-inch-wide concrete paths will give manual and power wheelchair users the room that we need. And while we're on the topic, let's talk a bit about lawns. The sad reality is that a patch of beautiful, green grass may be too difficult for manual wheelchair users. Lawns may also be difficult for power wheelchair users because of unseen dips and holes. Depending on the thickness of the grass, some motors may not be able to make it through you yard. If wheelchair users don't pay close attention, we could easily find ourselves in hazardous situations. I'd be lying if I told you that I've never flipped over as a result of this mishap. And just as an aside, driveways can also be tricky. If you are expecting the company of wheelchair a user, please be sure that cars are parked appropriately in your driveway. In order to safely navigate between the vehicles of family and friends, we'll need about 32 inches of space between vehicles. That is, unless you don't mind your vehicle getting a few dings and scratches.
At the very least, most Florida homes seem to have a single step leading to the front door. For those of us in wheelchairs, steps can severely limit access. In reality, most homes are not accessible to wheelchair users. If your family member's home has either a step or a series of steps leading to the front door, try your best to prepare in advance. You may need to bring your own ramp, but that's OK! Purchasing your own ramp can definitely come in handy, especially if you visit another house with an inaccessible entryway. After purchasing a ramp, you'll be able to visit homes like this in the future. As always, don't be ashamed to ask for help! If you need assistance to set up your ramp, family members, friends, and caregivers are always happy to help.

At a number of our family gatherings, we eat on the back porch. At my aunts' and uncles' houses, whenever I go out back, I always ask for help. Here's a great life hack: if you move your ramp from the front door to the back door, you only have to purchase one ramp! As long as the back door is 32 inches wide, your wheelchair should be able to fit through it without a problem. As a word of caution, the Americans with Disabilities Act states that all public ramps should have an incline of no more than 5 degrees. To make sure that you stay safe during holiday festivities, your ramps should follow the same standard. Under no circumstances should anybody, ever remove the anti-tippers/wheelie bars from a wheelchair. Please keep in mind that, if your anti-tippers prevent you from going up an incline, the angle is too steep. Never remove your anti-tippers. Instead, use that opportunity come up with a creative and practical solution with your family and friends. Who knows? Maybe you could even make a game out of it!

For those parties that take place indoors, doorways that are 32 inches wide, as well as hallways that are 36 inches wide, are definitely the most accessible. While it may seem strange that accessible hallways are wider than doors, keep in mind that you may need some extra room to safely turn around in that space. Another thing that we often take for granted is the arrangement of furniture. Since wheelchair users need extra space, it's a great idea to arrange sofas and other furniture with this thought in mind. That way, everybody can easily enjoy each other's company!
As with many other aspects of a person's home, certain restrooms might be difficult for wheelchair users to navigate. We can't assume that every home will have a wheelchair-accessible restroom, even if that home is owned by one of your closest friends. While ADA standards may call for public facilities to install grab bars, to have enlarged toilet seats, or to have accessible controls for the sink, personal bathrooms usually aren't furnished this way. These modifications can also be pricey. As a precaution, measuring the width of the bathroom door is always a great place to start. Remember that 32 inches is the standard width of an accessible door. If you feel that the interior of your own bathroom is a bit cramped, it's OK to communicate that to your guests.

It's completely understanding to feel uneasy about your home's accessibility! Instead of feeling uneasy around your guests, it would be a great idea to use this time to address any accessibility concerns that you may. By asking your guests common questions, you can definitely tease out accessibility pointers without seeming too obvious or uncomfortable. A perfect starting point might be as simple as asking: "Are you enjoying yourself?" and "Can I get you anything?" As you can imagine, these questions are a lot more comfortable for wheelchair users to answers, instead of responding to questions things like: "Do you need help?" or "How can I help you?" Like any other party or gathering, the most important part is the food! By arranging food, drinks, plates, silverware, etc., at an appropriate height, you'll give wheelchair users the opportunity to feel much more comfortable and independent. Please remember: if we need help, we'll usually ask.

Though it might not seem ideal, it is always an option to host the event at a different location. That way, none of the guests feel singled out. Since the holidays are about enjoying each other's company, let's make this season one to remember!

Kyle Romano

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