Universal design is most widely known for inspiring ramps, curb cuts, and elevators that help people with mobility restrictions get around in our world. It means, literally, design for all. But as is often the case regarding people with disabilities, it is visible disabilities that usually come to mind when addressing universal design. What about design for people with invisible disabilities? It’s invisible indeed, just like we are.
If you have friends or family who have mobility restrictions, you work to make sure your home is as accessible as possible for their visits and stays. I have low hooks in my bathroom that I installed for a guest who couldn’t reach my towel racks.
Do you likewise consider accommodations for your friends and family with hidden disabilities?
Hidden disabilities can be chronic illnesses or mental health conditions and affect more than ten percent of Americans. That’s one in ten people at your party.
As you plan your holiday gatherings, here are some ways you can incorporate universal design in your home or event space.
1. OFFER A VARIETY OF SEATING
Someone’s disability may make certain furniture uncomfortable or painful, or it may make certain placements in a crowded room emotionally difficult. Pictured here is one of my favorite spaces where I did a disability awareness training. Notice the variety of hard and soft furniture, seating heights, and proximity to the center of the action.
2. BATHROOMS MATTER
Make sure your guests know where the facilities are and that they are clean, comfortable, and well-stocked. Put in the effort to tidy your master bedroom and open up your master bathroom. Someone with a digestive or urinary condition will appreciate not having to wait or having a more secluded option. Consider some welcoming extras to help your guests refresh, such as breath spray and an unscented aerosol deodorant. Parties make a lot of people nervous!
3. MAKE A QUIET SPACE
Designate a room or area as a calm getaway for your guests who would like to remove themselves from the social atmosphere for a moment.
4. SCENT CAUTION
Many people have allergies or sensitivities to perfumes or other strong odors. If you are set on using that fabulous collection of pine-scented candles, just check with your guests ahead of time. If you get the all-clear, some aromatherapy could even improve your atmosphere.
5. ALL THE FOOD CONCERNS
Hopefully, if anyone has a severe allergy, they’ll take the initiative to inform you well ahead of time. I have a friend who can’t be in the same room as cucumbers, and everyone in our group knows this. But it never hurts to ask ahead of time. One thing you can do at the event itself is make mini table tents out of folded index cards and list ingredients of the dishes you set out, so people know what fits within any dietary restrictions. It’s also a great idea to let people know ahead of time exactly what you’ll be serving. I know, it ruins surprises, but it also gives people a chance to report allergies. Likewise, while it’s super difficult to accommodate everyone’s special diets these days, advance information can let people know what and how much you’re going to have that they can eat and whether they’d better fill their bellies ahead of time or pack some jerky in their purses.
We often toss the word “trigger” around loosely in conversation to indicate things that will make someone angry or set them off on a rant. Actual triggers are a big deal to many people with hidden conditions. There can be environmental/sensory triggers, like scents, as mentioned above, or they can be triggers in subject matter, like discussion of sexual assault. Triggers affect people with both physical and mental health conditions. You should ideally know your friends’ and family members’ triggers, party or not. One measure you can take for an unknown group is to be familiar with what the common triggers are, and if you can’t prohibit them, try to give advance notice of any that may come about. I’ve got a good list of sensory and subject matter triggers here: Invisible Disabilities Triggers
I hope this helps! Thanks for being an advocate, and happy holidays!!!