As Christmas approaches, many people will be traveling to spend time with family and friends. My parents and sister are visiting from South Africa and I've been reminded of the challenges that disabled people face when away from their home environment. My sister has mental and physical disabilities and although she can walk, she is slow and unsteady on her feet and needs a supporting hand when out of the house. I've had to slow my pace and look for the best ways to help her and accommodate her needs.
This got me thinking about disabled visitors. If you have a disabled friend or relative visiting over the holiday season, there are ways to make life easier for them. A little forward planning can go a long way so read through these suggestions and make plans and preparations before they arrive.
Accommodation for People with Disabilities
Depending on the type of disability, a person may have specific needs when it comes to living arrangements. Meeting these requirements as far as possible can make the visit a pleasant one for all concerned. These are some of the areas to consider. Does the person need a special bed? What height, type of mattress and firmness is required? Will protective sheets be necessary and what about a safety rail? Do they prefer to shower or bath and do they need a bath seat or other equipment? Is your home wheelchair friendly and are there stairs and uneven surfaces? It is possible to hire some equipment and the best thing to do, is discuss the issues with the person concerned before making arrangements.
What about the Garden
People with mobility problems and impaired vision will find a hilly garden with rock features and narrow paths difficult to manage. If you are planning on outdoor entertaining, try and center this around areas that are suitable for your guests. Flat paved areas with shelter from the elements are ideal. Be careful of any loose stones or cracks that could snag a crutch or trip someone up. If you have a pool, invite the disabled person to join in the fun. Many find water exercise ideal and with assistance can have a great time. Even if they prefer to sit on the steps and splash around, it will be enjoyable for them.
In some cases, a person will have dietary requirements. Ask whether they have specific needs such as pureed or mashed food or a general requirement such as low fat or sugar free. When laying the table, ask what they normally eat with. A spoon may be easier for some and a cup with handles may be needed. Some disabilities such as amputated limbs can be the result of a condition such as diabetes. Do some research and check the supermarket shelves for suitable foods and look for take-out stores that have healthy alternatives available.
Disabled Parking Permits
Most disabled people will have a disabled parking sticker or permit in their home town. Call your local authorities to see if this will be accepted in your area or make inquiries about getting a temporary permit. It can make life much easier if you are able to park close to a restaurant, mall or theater. Other factors to consider are the height of your vehicle, the number of doors and whether it can carry a wheelchair. Always allow extra time for a road trip with a disabled person as it takes time to help them in and out of vehicles and set up wheel chairs etc.
Out and About with the Disabled
If you know in advance that a disabled person will be visiting, make it a habit to check out disabled facilities as you go about daily life. Make mental notes of which malls and other public areas have the best restrooms and most accessible elevators for the disabled. All these places are required to provide these facilities but some are tucked away in obscure corners and are not as user friendly as others.
Flying with a Disabled Person
Airports, especially international terminals can stretch for long distances. It is often easier for people with mobility or visual problems to ask for wheelchair assistance. Some airlines require prior notification for this so make sure you ask when booking. It is also worth asking for a seat with extra legroom. People with mobility problems are normally boarded first and taken off last so be prepared for a long wait.
Sightseeing with a Disabled Person
By forward planning, you can include a disabled friend on a sightseeing trip. Obviously extreme sports such as bungy jumping and white water rafting are not going to be suitable but the person may enjoy watching you jump from a bridge or similar. Again, the key is communication. Make plans that include something for everyone and discuss what the family would like to do as a whole.
Generally, disabled people would prefer to have a frank discussion about their limitations and needs than be left embarrassed and struggling with inadequate facilities. By asking what they need, you are showing concern and thoughtfulness. On the other hand, they won't like being the centre of everyone's attention and would hate to be the deciding factor in where the family is going and what they are doing. With open communication and planning, Christmas can be a wonderful time for extended families. It's a time to get together and share experiences and memories ... and learn to extend grace and mercy and consider others before ourselves.