Hosting a Guest With a Physical Disability

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Hunter Kelch, a guest with a physical disability posing with his brother.
Hanging out with my brother at Fourth of July gathering.

 

Summer is in full swing and I have new wheels!  I was able to swing over to my Aunt and Uncle’s house for a cookout on the 4th of July.  My Aunt’s house is not accessible.  However, I enjoy going over there because we have all found ways to make it work.

 

Hosting a guest with a physical disability can be tricky.  However, it can be done with some planning and creativity.  Here are a few tips to making your guest with a physical disability as comfortable as possible.

 




Communication 

Hosting a guest with a physical disability can be stressful and challenging for both parties.  Over the years I have been left off invite lists because of doubts about accessibility. Before leaving a friend or relative off the guest list, have a conversation about their needs and potential roadblocks.

 

There are times the inaccessibility challenges are too much. However, sometimes communication and brainstorming can conquer the barriers.  Not being able to attend a fun gathering sucks.  What sucks even more?  Not being invited at all.

 

Pre-Planning for a guest with a physical disability

 

When hosting a guest with a physical disability it is wise to scope out the layout of your home (or venue).  Take notes to discuss the challenges with your guest with a physical disability.

 

Here are potential obstacles to take note of:

  • Doorway/Entrance width.  Most homes do not have extra wide doorways, but that does not mean a wheelchair won’t fit.  It all depends on the chair. My wheelchair fits through most doorways.  However, there have been a few where I left my mark!

  • Doorway Lips.  Some doorways have a raised lip that can make for a bumpy ride. I have been able to power over most doorway lips.  However, I have encountered a few that were too much for my chair.  Taking a picture of the entrance way and sending it to the wheelchair user would be a great idea.

  • Steps/Stairs.  Steps and stairs make places inaccessible to wheelchair users.  However, some wheelchair users have both a power chair and a manual chair.  Manual chairs can be popped up stairs with the muscle power of others.  Personally, I get nervous if it is more than just a few steps. Communication is key in this situation, as some wheelchair users don’t feel safe in doing this.

  • Bathroom layout.  Wheelchair Users need to be able to maneuver their chair within the bathroom.  If this is not a possibility, do not throw in the towel. Discussions and planning prior to the gathering can prevent embarrassing and uncomfortable situations.

  • Table Height.  Table height is essential when planning a dinner party.  Power wheelchairs today tend to be too high for most tables.  Knowing the table height ahead of time prevents having to scramble at the last minute.

Parking for a guest with a physical disability

 

A private residence does not usually have a designated accessible parking spot.  When attending a gathering or party, parking can be a challenge for a wheelchair user.  The solution is quite simple. Blocking or roping off an accessible spot in the driveway is the easiest solution.  Orange cones work well too!

 

Communicate the availability of the parking spot with your guest with a physical disability.  Additionally, communicate with your other guests in regards to where not to park.  This is especially important in certain weather situations. Most power chair controllers should not be exposed to the rain.  Additionally, chairs are hard to navigate in the snow and ice.

 

Inclusion for a guest with a physical disability

 

Okay, we now have your guest with a physical disability parked and in your home. The challenges do not stop there.  Hosting a guest with a physical disability requires more than just getting them into your home.  The true challenge is making sure all of your guests feel comfortable and included.

 

At the recent 4th of July gathering, the raised deck at my aunt’s house was not accessible.  Several of my strong relatives carried me up the steps so I could join everyone.  I know my family would have joined me in the yard, if it was not possible for me to be carried up the steps.

 

Unfortunately, isolation is something I have experienced at some gatherings.  This can be very frustrating and at times hurtful.  I try hard to always have a positive outlook on my disability.  However, these situations make it a difficult task.

 

Designation of a main gathering room can make the inclusion of all guests possible.  The accessible portion of the house should be the main designated gathering space.  Arrange the furnishings so the wheelchair user is in the mix of things and not in an out of the way corner.

 

Be sure to make introductions.  There are times people feel uncomfortable when first meeting an individual with a disability.  A conversation boost may be necessary and appreciated!

 

Bathroom for a guest with a physical disability

 

Accessible bathrooms are a common challenge for a guest with a physical disability. Take pictures of the layout prior to the gathering and discuss the needs with your guest.

 

Personally, I need to be able to maneuver my chair within the bathroom.  However, there were times I was able to use a portable urinal in a private spot other than the bathroom itself.

 

The most important thing to remember when hosting a guest with a physical disability is to be respectful of their privacy and dignity. Matters of the bathroom should be worked out ahead of time.

Table Settings for a guest with a physical disability

 

Table height can be an issue when hosting a guest with a physical disability. Most tables do not accommodate the height of many power chairs.  There is little that can be done, but again communication is key.  I have a tray for my wheelchair and bring it wherever I go.

 

Additionally, seating position is important.  The designated spot for your wheelchair using guest would be at the end of the table. Make sure there is plenty of room for others to get around the wheelchair.  Being in the way is not the most comfortable position to be in.

 

Other Considerations

Wheelchairs can track in mud and dirt.  Be sure to protect carpeting in any of the gathering areas.  If at all possible, the loading and unloading area should be clear of mud, dirt and snow. This not only protects the wheelchair user, but also your flooring.

 

 

Individuals with disabilities can lead isolated lives.  Invitations are always appreciated, but can also cause anxiety.  Meeting new people can be stressful, especially for wheelchair users.  When hosting a guest with a physical disability make an extra effort to draw attention to the person and not the disability when introducing them.  Basically, think about how you would want to be introduced and treated as a guest.  For more disability etiquette tips, click here.

 

The most important thing to remember when hosting a guest with a physical disability is to openly communicate.  Also relax!  No matter how much planning, there is bound to be a misstep (no pun intended!)  These are moments that create funny memories!  And memories are priceless!

 

Until next time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’

 

 

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