By Erin Vallely, ATI Advocacy Specialist
November 30, 2023
Did you know many religions celebrate holidays between November and January? Regardless of your religious beliefs, it is likely you will host or attend a holiday celebration this time of year. While holidays are usually joyous times to celebrate, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses often face accessibility problems when trying to celebrate. This often leads to strained relationships and isolation for people whose needs are not considered or accounted for.
Importance of Holiday Accessibility
While religious beliefs and practices vary, the top major religions core beliefs are actually very similar. All the major religions teach their followers to treat others with kindness and to avoid actions that they would not want directed at themselves. They also all prioritize the importance of family, friends, and neighbors. Not asking people what needs they have, or knowingly leaving people out because you don’t want to accommodate them, is against the holiday spirit, regardless of your beliefs. Sometimes needs aren’t obvious, so start asking everyone what needs they have and what you can do to ensure they have a good time when they are with you.
Making Holidays More Accessible
Although these suggestions do not cover every possible way to make the holidays more accessible, they are applicable to every celebration and holiday, regardless of the occasion. Here are some things everyone should think about when making plans to gather with other people for celebrations.
Location: Make sure everyone can get to where your celebration is taking place. You need to consider things like public transportation availability and time of day for people who do not drive. Possible solutions might be arranging for another guest to pick them up, calling a cab or rideshare company, or taking the celebration to their home that is set up for their needs. Everyone can help by bringing food, decorations, and activities so the disabled or chronically ill individual does not become the only host by default.
Movement: Once people can get to the location of the party, it’s important to have an accessible entrance plan or work around and clear pathways without leaves, snow, ice, or other debris. Once inside, do your best to keep walkways clear and leave enough room to easily maneuver around furniture and decorations. If someone is unsteady, seat them at the easiest to access seat and offer to bring them their plate. Wrapping materials, dreidels, toys, pets, and treats on the ground are all dangerous tripping hazards.
Noise: For people with sensory and communication disabilities, noise can quickly become overwhelming. People with hearing impairments often struggle to hear when there are competing sounds. Be conscious of the noise level and consider keeping the television or music off throughout the party. You should also point out quiet rooms people can go to if they need to rest.
Dietary Needs / Restrictions: Before you plan your menu, ask everyone you invited what food allergies and dietary needs they have. Once you have everyone’s needs, do your best to ensure most dishes are edible by everyone. Common dietary needs include vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, nut and seafood free, kosher, and Halal. It is best to label every dish with its ingredients so no one accidentally eats something they shouldn’t. Many people have severe medical reactions, and can even die, from eating the wrong thing.
Traditions: Think about your family’s and friend’s needs when planning traditions and wrapping gifts. Traditions, such as lighting the menorah or kinara, can be dangerous for some people for a variety of reasons. Look into electric versions or reassign responsibilities to better match people’s abilities while ensuring everyone still has an important part. When attending holiday parades, festivals and fireworks, give people noise canceling headphones so they are less likely to get overwhelmed by the noise. Pack gifts in bags or tissue paper for easier opening for people with limited strength and chronic pain.
Although there are no laws related to the accessibility of private events, accessibility should always be prioritized. While people should advocate for themselves when they face accessibility barriers, some people get uncomfortable because they feel like a burden. When other people ask what we need beforehand, and help us make necessary accommodations, we know you truly want us to be there.
Knowing where to start can be overwhelming, but lots of accessibility steps are very easy to take. Here are some resources you can use for more information on some specific ways to make holiday celebrations more accessible and inclusive for everyone.
- See this universal article anyone can use to help them plan accessible holiday activities https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewpulrang/2019/12/13/how-to-make-your-holidays-more-accessible/?sh=35f943ef3a4b
- For people celebrating Hanukkah, check out these specific ideas to ensure everyone can enjoy the festivities https://www.ameridisability.com/tips-for-hosting-an-inclusive-hanukkah-party/
- For people celebrating Kwanzaa, check out this blog series and see how you can apply the seven principles to create accessible festivities https://fourwheelworkout.com/2019/12/25/kwanzaa-disabledly/
- For people celebrating Diwali, check out these specific ideas to make it more sensory friendly https://avazapp.com/blog/diwali-with-aac-an-inclusive-celebration/