The holidays are simply the best time of the year. However, for those of us who use a wheelchair, there are some unique challenges to be overcome when celebrating with family and friends.
When I was 13, I broke my neck in a car accident. Paralyzed from the chest down, the immediate weeks and months that followed were an incredible whirlwind of activity. Just days prior to the accident, the biggest challenge in my life was making sure to turn my homework in on time.
But in just an instant it all changed. My family and I were forced to make decisions on surgical options, where to go for rehabilitation, and how to pay for everything. All the while, I was struggling as my world turned upside down. The chosen physical rehab facility was several states away, so when holidays rolled around, taking a trip home to celebrate was near the bottom of our priority list. What I would come to learn is that a celebration with family was exactly what I needed.
My family surprised me with a party that Christmas. I couldn’t travel home, so everyone came to me and turned the small apartment in a strange city into a warm home. They brought more food than anyone could hope to eat and plenty of decorations. More importantly, for the first time, I felt normal again. All of the sudden I was sitting at the same kids’ table and laughing with my cousins like nothing had happened.
Don’t forget to include those of us who have disabilities when planning your holiday celebrations. It only takes a few simple considerations to make everyone feel welcomed. If you are hosting someone with a disability at any of your holiday events, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Create an easy place for them to park. If they are using a wheelchair-accessible vehicle like I do, ensure there is room to deploy a ramp so that the wheelchair user can easily exit the vehicle.
Are there stairs into your house? If so, have a strategy for helping them get inside.
Clear a space for them in the common area if it is difficult for them to sit on a couch or chair.
Offer to help make a plate if the food is buffet or family style.
Last, but not least, don't overthink it. Communicate clearly with the person who has a disability, and they will tell you how to best help them.
Take a moment to be thankful for what you have. Years ago, the holidays were a turning point in my life, and this season could be equally as important for someone in your family too.
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.
Jeff Butler is a Paralympic silver medalist and a motivational speaker. Jeff is also a contributing writer for Vantage Mobility International (VMI), one of the largest manufacturers of wheelchair vehicle conversions. To learn more, go to https://jeffpbutler.com and vantagemobility.com.