Christmas for All – Tips for an Inclusive Festive Season
Things to remember for an inclusive, Merry Christmas, while supporting those with a disability, anxiety or a recent loss.
This is the time of year for fun, festivities and excitement. It is generally at this time that we catch up with family and friends, to let our hair down and enjoy this special time of year. While this may be the case for the vast majority of us, we need to remember that for some, the festive season is a time for anxiety and depression. These feelings can stem from such issues as disability access, recent loss of a loved one, fear of social interaction, mobility problems and the general stress that comes with the festive season.
While inviting people to come and share your festive activities is a considerate way to help them feel included, we must remember that not everyone is going to feel comfortable in a room full of strangers at a high-spirited Christmas party. This may be overwhelming to anyone with anxiety, depression, a disability or experiencing festive season loneliness from a recent loss. A break in the comfortable rhythm of their daily schedule can bring on panic attacks, loud behaviour and general distress. Feelings of this kind are why many will decline an invitation to the Christmas party and may spend the festive season alone.
There are some things we can do to make it easier for those with a disability or experiencing anxiety to come along and enjoy the festivities too.
When planning a Christmas gathering, we need to keep in mind that those who are elderly or living with a disability need to be considered too. Everyone needs to be accommodated at the venue, whether it be at home, at a club or even a function centre. When sending out the invitations, it is best to ask each attendee about any special considerations for dietary requirements and accessibility.
Disability Christmas Party Venue Checklist
Most of this will seem simple, but these points should be investigated prior to booking the venue for your celebration.
- Public Transport – is the venue close to public transport.
- Car Park – is there adequate disability parking at the venue.
- Entrance – is the entrance wide enough and are there automatic doors for easy access.
- Accessibility – does the venue have ramps and lifts or just stairs.
- Toilet Facilities – are the bathrooms easy navigate, no clutter, and does the venue have specific facilities for those with mobility issues.
- Food – will the venue honour any special dietary requirements.
- Room Map – will the venue supply a map of the facilities or can the MC of the event announce directions to the facilities, including fire exits and assembly points, at the start of the event.
- Seating Allocation – will the organiser allocate seating in the best area for participants – seat hearing or sight impaired at the front.
If this information is collected and included on the invitation, then it may go a long way to convincing nervous participants to attend.
This is all fine if you are partying out, but what about if you are hosting Christmas at home?
Inclusive Christmas at Home
The key to having a comfortable Christmas celebration for all, is inclusion. This means that if you allocate small jobs to helpers on the day, be sure not to leave anyone out. Having a job to concentrate on, especially if everyone else is busy will help to keep the participants focused.
- Schedule – make up a clear schedule of events and stick to it.
- Room Mapping – set the room up in advance and check all necessary facilities are accessible.
- Partnering – partner up people for the main events so no-one is left alone.
- Participation – encourage participation through activities such as commenting in turn on old photographs or use memory prompting cards.
- Rest Zone – create an area away from the noise and activity for people to have some quiet time in a safe area.
- Knowledge – give all attendees relevant information about any disabled, challenged or lonely participant. This can be done prior to the event and can include safe, or preferred, subjects for conversation to avoid uncomfortable silences.
- Giving – take the time, prior to the Christmas celebrations, to ensure everyone coming to the celebration has the opportunity to “give”. This can be as simple as assisting a participant to write their Christmas cards or wrap presents so they can enjoy the gift of giving on Christmas day.
When planning all Christmas celebrations of any kind, we need to be mindful that there are those we may invite who are dealing with seasonal pressures and other challenges. Declining the invitation may be their way of dealing with these pressures, so please keep inviting them so they don’t feel isolated. Situations may change and they need to be given the opportunity to attend future events.
If you know of someone who has chosen not to participate in the Christmas festivities, then we must realise that we cannot make them participate. In some cases, the best we can do is make sure they understand that they are valuable, and we care for them. We can do this by arranging a treat for them on Christmas day. This can be as simple as making their favourite food so they can enjoy it on Christmas Day or helping to pick out some movies that they love to play on the day. Another alternative is to have a smaller, more manageable gathering on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day for them to attend or to take the time to visit them at home on these days.
The festive season is a wonderful, happy and caring time for most of us, but to some it means loneliness, confusion and reminders of what has been lost. How we choose to approach the festivities can make a huge difference to the lives of our loved ones.
I hope this guide assists with planning your perfect, inclusive Christmas Gathering and broadens the perspective with which we view the festive season. If we stop and reflect about what others around us need, to have a Merry Christmas, and take steps to include them, we can all have a wonderful festive season to remember.