A More Inclusive Holiday Season
Between planning get togethers, upholding traditions, attending church services, and the like, we are met with busy schedules and varying emotions during the holiday season. After my little sister’s spinal cord injury in 2020, the holidays are full of these things, and so much more. Nobody teaches you how to navigate this season during inpatient.
Despite the holiday season looking different after a spinal cord injury or trauma, there is hope to experience joy, traditions (new and old), and healing. As a sibling of someone with a relatively recent injury, I hope to provide practical tips as to how you can create a more accessible and inclusive holiday season for your loved one, both physically and emotionally.
If you are hosting a holiday get together, I think there are certain materials you should be equipped with to cultivate an accessible environment, helping you become a better family member, friend, and advocate during the holiday season.
Holiday baking and crafting tools (mixers, hot glue guns, etc.) have tiny cords! While this is suitable for able-bodied people, a person with an SCI/D may not be able to easily reach the tool or stand up at the countertop. This is unnecessarily inaccessible, and can quickly be fixed with an extension cord. My little sister is a great baker, and she endorses this hack!
Speaking of tables, do you own table risers? If not, you should consider purchasing some. Table risers elevate your table, allowing more space for a wheelchair-user to roll up to the table. There is no need for a loved one to be discluded from holiday meals, game nights, or quality time because your table is too low for them to roll under.
Able-bodied people often overlook the fact that many holiday activities, such as baking and decorating, require movement to different levels, along with frequent grabbing motions. Depending on the individual, a grabber (reacher) may be an excellent tool to foster accessibility. This tool acts as an extension, creating an easier opportunity to help hang up decor, or grab ingredients.
If your home does not have an accessible entrance, it would be wise to find or build a temporary ramp.
Accessibilty and inclusivity are not limited to physical considerations. In fact, I would argue that emotional considerations are equally important. Here are some ideas to engage emotional inclusivity.
Don’t Assume. Always Ask.
As able-bodied people, we possess tendencies to assume we know the abilities and desires of someone with an SCI/D. This can look like cooking a holiday meal without your loved one with a disabliity because you wrongfully thought it would be too complex for them. Perhaps you decorate your home or go shopping. without inviting them because you predict they will be too busy or tired. I can understand why you may think this way, and my guess is that your motive is to eliminate the possibility of an awkward moment between you and the other party. Us humans will do just about anything to dodge a potentially uncomfortable conversation.
Could I challenge you to think differently?
My hope for you this holiday season is to never assume, and instead, always ask. Be an emotionally inclusive person. Ask how your loved one is feeling. Reach out and present them with the opportunity to come help you cook. While you are at it, ask how you can make the experience accessible. Offer to pick them up or meet them at the store. They may or may not take you up on your offer, but you will be glad you asked!
Create A Safe Space
After any trauma, complex emotions may emerge during the holidays. Spinal cord injuries are no exception. That said, I know how tempting it is to bury your feelings, or immediately soothe the heavy emotions of your loved one. In all honesty, I am still navigating this. Even so, I have found it helpful to create a safe space during the holidays.
When we nourish an emotionally safe environment that allows for perceivnlgy scary emotions like sadness, grief, and anger to come out, we actually pave a path for emotions like joy, hope, and gratitude. As an advocate, you can achieve this through active listening. Allow your loved one to express what is difficult for them during the holidays post-injury. Invite them to discuss what they miss. Consider working together to make new traditions or modify old ones. Start exploring what it looks like to create this space.
Overall, remember that every situation involving an SCI/D is unique. By implementing these physical and emotional ideas, along with asking your own loved ones about their thoughts on the topic, you are doing your part to cultivate an accessible and inclusive holiday season. After all, accessibility is an act of love.
Written by Peyton Tongate
A student at the University of Central Florida and the sister of someone with an SCI