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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Inclusion: Do You Avoid Inviting a Friend With a Disability to a Holiday Celebration at Your Home?

Holidays can be lonely times, especially for People With Disabilities.  I know that holidays are very depressing for me because most of the time I am forced to sit at home with a caregiver.  Read my post about "Visitability" [March 30, 2017] to learn about challenges many of us have to face when other people don't have  accessible homes.  But sometimes the barriers are more subtle. Many times, the host or hostess just feels uncomfortable about some disabilities.  But the excuse I hear most often is "I don't want [the PWD] to feel bad if other guests make [the PWD] feel uncomfortable" or they are afraid someone else will say something hurtful.  It's unbelievable in this day and age, but I still have neighbors who can't look me in the eye, ask my caregiver about me while I am right there or just avoid me. there is still so much fear around disability. Indeed, I have attended many gatherings where I could feel the discomfort of other guests toward me.  But, if just one guest leaves the get-together with a more enlightened attitude toward PWDs and realizes there is a HUMAN BEING sitting in the wheelchair, I have accomplished something.  As a PWD, I just have to decide whether I want to go, and risk a little discomfort, or sit at home isolated.  I have learned two things over the dozen+ years as a PWD: first, this excuse of fearing hurt to the PWD is usually no more than just that -- an excuse -- and reflects the discomfort of the host/ess.  the second thing I have learned is that the experience is often not as uncomfortable as I imagined.  I have learned that my speech problems and using a device with a text-to-speech app, present a new challenge for almost anyone.  including me in the conversation is a skill that has to be learned; as time goes on and PWDs survive longer and move about with more independence and inclusion, there will be more awareness from the able-bodied about how to relate to us.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the President of RespectAbilityUSA, a non-profit organization working to empower PWDs to achieve the American dream. she has written an article entitled "10 Tips For Including People With Disabilities in Purim and Passover".  But don't let the title dissuade you if you are not Jewish.  You can apply these tips to any holiday, religious or not -- Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve or Independence Day [or just an informal barbecue].   There are ways to prepare guests and head off any awkwardness.  And including a person with a disability in a get-together might just enlighten and dispel myths about PWDs, while bringing a PWD out of isolation.  I can attest to the fact that after becoming disabled, I suffer from isolation and loneliness during most holidays, because I am excluded from most get-togethers these days.  Christmas 2016 and Easter 2017 were much brighter this year for the first time in a dozen years, due to a friend's inclusion of my presence at her celebrations.  I was so grateful. After reading Ms. Laszlo-Mizrahi's article, able-bodied readers should make an effort to include a person with a disability at their next holiday [or any] gathering.
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