Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Having A Happy and Accessible Holiday

Once again, the holiday season has crept up on us! If your family is anything like mine, that means spending an extended period of time with parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. For wheelchair users like myself, it can feel draining to be in an unfamiliar or inaccessible setting. Some places may even be impossible for us to access. If you've ever wondered whether your place is accessible, fear not! Here are some tips to help you plan a holiday party that will be inviting to all of your guests, whether they use mobility equipment or not.


Since I'm a wheelchair user, I notice things that people typically take for granted. For example, some paths and walkways may seem like they're more accessible than they really are. Since they're pretty common, lets use pavers as an example. While they usually look beautiful, pavers and even cobblestones can be difficult for wheelchair users to cross.
Tires, and even some low-hanging parts, can actually get stuck between stones. Since they also make for a pretty bumpy ride, pavers may be difficult for people who need extra support for their necks, backs, etc. Pavers or cobblestones may also be tough for manual wheelchair users to push themselves over.

Gravel, sand, and soft dirt are a wheelchair user's kryptonite. You may not expect it, but most power and manual wheelchairs sink right into pockets of sand. Smooth, concrete sidewalks and walkways are definitely the most accessible for people who use wheelchairs, canes, walkers, scooters, or any other kind of mobility device. 32-inches is usually wide enough to accommodate these devices, and is also the ADA standard for public places like parks.

Lawn parties can be a great way to spend time with your friends and family. But what if you're trying to put together a lawn party that's accessible for friends and family members who use mobility devices? While lush, green grass looks beautiful, it may be tough for manual wheelchair users to push themselves through. Unseen dips and holes could also make things tricky for people who are visually impaired or use power wheelchairs, walkers, canes, etc. In my heyday, I was known to flip a chair or two, so I've been on the receiving end of surprise lawn holes. I've also experienced that thick grass tends be tough on the motors of my power wheelchair, causing more wear and tear than usual. If you're worried that your yard may be too lush for it's own good, you can lay down some boards that lead from your house to the area where you'll be hanging out. If you're still concerned, it may be better to host your party indoors, or at least on a porch.

Since we know that 32 inches is wide enough to accommodate most wheelchairs and other mobility devices, we should also keep this in mind when parking our vehicles. It takes about 5-6 feet to safely load/unload a wheelchair. Whether your guest has an accessible van, truck, SUV, or car, please extend a parking courtesy to those who may need it, and let your other guests know.

At the very least, most Florida houses seem to 
have a single step leading to the front door. For wheelchair users, entryways like this may be difficult to access without a ramp. In my own experience, I've noticed that some homes are not very accessible for wheelchair users.

Before you do anything, such as buying or building your own ramp, make sure to talk to the host about your accessibility needs. You may discover that they already have a solution.

In the case that your host does not have an accessibility solution, preparing in advance could save you both a lot of time and frustration. You may either need to either bring a ramp that you've purchased, or make your own.

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 your holiday festivities, please keep this in mind. Under no circumstances should anybody, remove the anti-tippers/wheelie bars from a wheelchair. If you think that your anti-tippers are preventing you from going up an incline, the angle is too steep. You may either need a longer ramp, or an entirely different solution.

For those parties that take place inside, doorways that are 32 inches wide, as well as hallways that are 36 inches wide, are the accessible for most wheelchair users. It may seem strange that accessible hallways are wider than doors but wheelchair users need some extra room to safely turn around in that space. Another thing that some people may take for granted is the arrangement of furniture. Since our wheelchairs need extra space, you might consider arranging furniture with this in mind.
Because of their size, certain rooms may be more or less accessible for people who use mobility devices. In particular, restrooms may be difficult for us to navigate. We can't assume that every home will have an accessible restroom, even if that home is owned by a family member or one of your closest friends. While ADA standards may call for public facilities to install grab bars, to have raised toilet seats, or to have accessible controls for the sink, personal bathrooms usually aren't furnished this way. As a precaution, measuring the width of the bathroom door is always a great place to start and, if it meets the standard of 32 inches, it'll typically be accessible. If you feel that the interior of your own bathroom is a bit cramped, it's OK to communicate that to your guests.

After you've spent some time with your guests and have helped them to feel comfortable, it would be a great idea to ask them about the accessibility of your home. You can do this directly, or ask some typical questions, such as, "Are you enjoying yourself?" and "Can I get you anything?" You can also be more direct, and ask things like, "Do you need help?" or "How can I help you?" The best approach will depend on you and your guest, so try and feel things out before asking. Like any other party or gathering, the most important part is the food! By arranging entrees, sides, drinks, plates, silverware, etc., at an appropriate height, you'll give wheelchair users the opportunity to serve ourselves. 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 your guests feel singled out. Since the holidays are about enjoying each other's company, let's make this season an accessible one!

Kyle Romano

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