By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall
Even though sometimes it feels as though we’re still waiting on spring, summer is right around the corner. The time for barbeques, reunions, picnics, weddings, and graduation parties. While it can be a fun and exciting time for some, it can be a source of stress and anxiety for people with disabilities. Typically, concerns come down to the following questions:
Can I access the venue – completely?
As a wheelchair user, I know that feeling of driving up to a party location and feeling my heart sink. Steps! At this point, I have to make the decision about skipping the party altogether or being carried into the home. Personally, I find being carried is humiliating, and have set a personal boundaries not to attend events where that would be the situation. Yet, even if I did allow myself to be carried or were to access the party some other way, the most dreaded question still weigh’s heavy on my mind: Will I be able to go to the bathroom? I don’t know if people without disabilities think about this often, but is constantly on my mind, especially when going out in public, to someone’s home, or to somewhere I’ve never been. You can’t make assumptions that a bathroom, even if in public, is accessible no matter what the symbol on the door says. Of course, there’s also the unhelpful reality that thinking about not being able to go to the bathroom probably will make you have to go more.
When it comes to parties or public events, what makes them inclusive is intentional planning. Know who your guests are, and ask them in person or in writing to tell you about what they might need. Even better – include them in on making decisions about how you’ll meet their accommodation needs. For physical access it may involve moving the event to a different location, a public or private place that is already accessible. Did you know the Department of Natural Resource’s recreation search engine indicates accessible design features for state parks, campgrounds, and trailways? Alternatively could you build a ramp or place a portable ramp? Can furniture be moved to create more room (especially in the bathroom)? Does your bathroom have room for a personal assistant and room for a wheelchair to turn around? If you’re one of the lucky ones, and have a large bathroom or just the right layout, you may be able to install grab bars. Some grab bars don’t require drilling, but have suction and a locking mechanism that can still provide good stability. It is always a good idea to test these out (perhaps with your disabled guests), to ensure they are strong enough.
Will I be able to participate or will I be trapped in a corner?
Sometimes, when arriving a party, someone (usually intending to accommodate my wheelchair) informs me that they’ve saved a spot, especially for me, where a chair has been removed. Typically, my “spot” is somewhere in a corner without a path of access to the restroom, food, or activities. I’m trapped there – for the rest of the night. It’s important to think about things like space between tables and height of tables, exits, placement of food and eating utensils, potential obstacles or safety hazards for people who are blind or have low vision, etc. Most people would prefer to get their own food if they are able to do so. Assistive technology (AT) like table risers, easy to pour beverage containers, and even paper plate holders, straws, and cups with handles can add to independence.
Beyond being able to eat and participate in conversation, you may also want to consider the appropriateness of your activities if you have guests with disabilities. For example, a game of badmitten or Twister in the backyard may not be the best choice if you have guests with mobility or visual disabilities. Someone who is neurodiverse may have trouble with word games or complex board games. Recreational AT, like braille or large print playing cards, card holders, and picture or tactile based games may be a better choice depending on your guests.
For more tips on making your party inclusive for everyone, check out our webinar, “AT for your Accessible Picnic“, as the content is relevant for any event.
In the meantime, enjoy the sunshine!