With the festive season coming around once again, social gatherings become the buzz word for many however for people with disabilities this might not be the case. The seasonal social interaction is sadly not relevant to a large proportion of the disabled community for a number of reasons.Freedom of movement encompasses the ability to move in environments without being constantly obstructed but unfortunately this is not always the case.
Due to elevated stress levels associated with outings because of accessibility issues and the resultant mental fatigue it can create, many find it hard to do things at short notice choosing instead to opt out of social events. Transitioning from an able-bodied world to a world tacked on haphazardly for a person with limited mobility, segregation is commonplace and sadly an accepted part in public spaces and beyond. To be included in society is a full-time job not to mention during a time of intense crowds and thick human traffic flow. In my experience, bars, pubs and clubs often contain hostile and hard-to-navigate spaces with disability not being an inclusive part of the design process. Spaces do not flow easily with steps not welcoming to all bodies especially those on four wheels.
Our freedom of movement is hindered in other ways too. For example, a lack of accessible seating in pubs with high tables and high chairs especially if you have not the ability to transfer out of your chair freely. Even accessible toilets are more often too narrow for smaller manual chairs. For those without the choice to drive due to a disability, there is a lack of resources to move within communities and beyond due to poor transportation options again furthering isolation. Often ramps are broken on town buses with intercity busses not providing wheelchair access.
If you are organising a social event and there is a friend in the group with mobility issues, precautions taken can minimise frustration and heartache. Research your surroundings where possible and plan ahead! Perhaps opt for hotels with open spaced lobbies and almost guaranteed wheelchair accessible bathrooms when socialising with friends. Simple ideas that I would advise to minimise problems include ringing ahead to make sure elevators are working, there are wheelchair facilities present and tables are at a suitable height. Home visits are often possible with many happy to socialise in friendly home environments. When using public transport call ahead prior to journeys to make sure ramps are available. Sometimes local Irish Wheelchair Associations can offer support with transport as wheelchair taxis can be limited in number but also very pricey.
Christmas can be a very expensive time for many. Both financial and accessibility issues for disabled people mean that social gathering are often seen as a luxury rather than a necessity; a vicious cycle. However, being mindful of the issues disabled people can face and doing your best to accommodate these can be one way of making Christmas a more inclusive and sociable time for all.Enjoy the gatherings!!