It’s a common experience among folks with disabilities. At some point, some well-meaning person will leave us out of events because “I figured you wouldn’t be able to go”. It’s presumably meant as a nice act, by taking away the need for us to say no, but in actuality all it does is make us feel even more left out than we already do. More than that, it ends up being condescending because it suggests that you know better than we do what we can and can’t do.
Living with a disability often results in social isolation, but the truth is that it doesn’t have to. What is ultimately the biggest barrier towards people with disabilities being able to socialize well is a lack of social imagination. When people consider parties or get-togethers, the thought is rarely as to how to make the event more inclusive to people with disabilities. Moreover, friends never seem to consider the possibility of suggesting low effort hangouts as well.
Instead of adding to the social isolation by excluding us and making us feel othered, instead here is a list of ideas to have disability friendly events as well as a list for fun disability friendly get-together ideas.
Netflix Marathon Pyjama Party
This one is actually on my to-do list. I would love to invite a bunch of friends over to hang out in our PJs and watch movies or some fun series together. I can medicate at need, and the overall idea is fairly low impact. We can order some food with everyone chipping in, or even arrange for the party to be a potluck with everyone bringing something to share so that no one person has to do all the cooking, and I am left with minimal clean-up.
The evening can even include a self-care portion of the evening: maybe do some nice skincare routine, help each-other dye our hair, paint our nails or do something else to help each other feel pretty. Set up a sleeping area in another room, so that as people run out of energy, they can go to sleep, while the others can continue on until they’re ready for bed themselves.
Maybe I’ll make this my birthday party this year!
Consider Physical Limitations: Have Seating, Avoid Stairs
I can’t tell you the number of times that I have had someone tell me that they are devoted to making their events more accessible, and then schedule all their events in a place with stairs. I understand that there are other considerations that go into scheduling a public event, but the sad fact is that your events won’t ever be accessible unless you make accessibility a priority. After a while your professed devotion starts to ring a little hollow.
When considering a venue, stop and think about what that venue will be like for people with mobility issues? Do I have to take the stairs to go to the bathroom? Are there elevators? Is it close to a bus route or accessible parking? These are the very same questions I have to ask myself before going to the event, and I am not alone.
Often times, one of the biggest barriers to my being able to stay at an event is the availability of seating. I’ve gone to events at friend’s house where there are more people than chairs. It ends up being a first come first served situation. A hard chair or having to sit on the floor is painful, which mean my energy drains faster, but it sucks having to always be the one to ask to take one of the premier spots. It would be nice if just once a friend thought to save a spot for me, and save me the trouble of having to be the bad guy making everyone move.
Have a Quiet Room
Sometimes things get a little overwhelming, or sometimes my pain suddenly acts up and I need to escape so that I can focus on not feeling like that rather than not letting everyone know how I’m feeling. Usually when this happens, my only real option is to go home. There I can recharge my batteries a little. Occasionally, I can get away with just hiding in the bathroom for a little bit. Leaving means my partner has to leave too, since I’m the driver. I hate having to make my partner miss the fun, and so I push myself past my point of endurance, and then I suffer later.
Many people suffer from some form of sensory overload and could use a quiet room, where they can step aside, do a solo or quiet activity, before rejoining the fun.
Parallel Play Party
Some of the best hangouts I’ve had involved a group of us on our laptops hanging out at a coffee shop, or at one of our apartments. We work on writing, hangout on Facebook, all while relaxing in the same room. From time to time we will share something through chat and talk about it then go back to what we are working on. Sometimes we will watch a clip together to enjoy one another’s reactions.
I get to feel like I am spending time with someone because I am, but my overall energy expenditure is relatively low.
Make it Possible for Me to Say No
When you punish me for saying no by excluding me from things, you make it harder for me to be able to say no when I need to. I need you to keep asking and keep trying. That said, if you keep saying you want to see me, but only ever suggest events you know to be unlikely to be comfortable for me, then I will notice that pattern. If you don’t want to see me, that fine, tell me so I can devote my energy to people who actually want my friendship.
So how do you show me that you actually do care? When I say no, don’t let that be the end. Let me know that you are open to other lower effort events at some other time. And let me know a few dates when you would be free. As someone who doesn’t work, I hesitate to suggest outings since I don’t want to impose on anyone else’s schedule. If you let me know days that work for you, it is easier for me to plan when to suggest a get-together.
Avoid Loud Noises and Flashing Lights
Loud noises and flashing lights can trigger seizures which can be fatal. They can also be a problem in less deadly situations causing migraines, sensory overload, anxiety, and a variety of other problems. If they are not strictly necessary, consider alternatives.
In cases where some volume may be necessary, consider making earplugs readily available, and make sure there is a space where people can go to seek quiet.
Don’t Police My Behaviour
Everyone wants to be bad from time to time and that includes people with disabilities. That means that we too sometimes make decisions that we know may hurt us in the longer term, but are fun right now. The same way that you wouldn’t lecture a friend who decided to get drunk that night, despite the risk of a hangover, I really don’t need you to keep asking me if I think eating that salad is a “good idea”. I am an adult same as you, and have just as much of a right to make bad decisions as you do. Sometimes the momentary thrill of being “bad” is worth it for the mental boost it gives you.
I don’t need to be treated like some porcelain trinket that needs to be sheltered. Just because I may need help from time to time doesn’t mean I am incompetent.
Creating an accessible environment, or creating events that are inclusive to those who may be hindered by different needs, is not that difficult. Ultimately it is a matter of caring and being willing to do it.