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Preparing for Holiday Family Reunions
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Preparing for Holiday Family Reunions

The holidays are a wonderful time for coming together with family and friends and sharing holiday cheer. They also bring a string of never-ending meals, get-togethers, and festive gatherings.

Coordinating schedules and making travel plans is rarely an easy task, and it’s further complicated if you’re traveling with a disability or chronic illness. There are many aspects of accessibility that most people don’t have to consider when making a trip to visit friends or family.

For people with disabilities, the holidays can be an extra stressful time of year. Freezing temperatures mean that limited mobility is even further restricted, as ice and snow increase the risk of slipping or falling. Long grey days contribute to seasonal affective disorder throughout the population, and isolation can make symptoms worse.

In those conditions, getting ready to travel for the holidays can seem like a daunting task that’s not worth it. The headache incurred by traveling with a chronic illness or disability can be minimized, though, by planning ahead and communicating. Consider the following tips before heading out the door, and both your travel and your destination will be more welcoming.

Plan Ahead and Plan Accessibly

Making plans ahead of time is your greatest asset in ensuring everyone is taken care of. From prepping travel itineraries to making plans with family and friends, there’s a lot to do. Being organized and approaching your trip strategically will make life easier.

If you’re traveling, you’ll want to make sure all your boxes are checked before heading out on the road. You’ll also want to make sure you’re prepared to be away from your primary care team. This means visiting the doctor, filling any prescriptions you may need, and making sure you have access to physical or mental emergency care if the need may arise.

Make sure your destination is set up to accommodate whatever needs you may have. If this means calling ahead to a hotel or making sure your extended family is aware what kind of space works best for you, take care of it before you leave. Arriving at your destination exhausted from traveling only to find that your lodging isn’t up to snuff will add undue stress to your trip.

When planning group outings, talk with everyone to make sure the activities are comfortable and possible for everyone. This means that ice skating may be out, but visiting illuminated gardens and enjoying the sights might be in.

If you’re attending an event or going somewhere that requires admission, buy tickets before going. Not only does this reserve seating or potentially offer a discount, but you won’t have to be concerned with last-minute schedule changes due to sold-out events.

If you’re meeting out for food or attending a holiday party at a venue, suggest locations that you’ve been to before and that you know you can comfortably navigate. If it’s a location you haven’t been to, call ahead and find out what their accessibility is like. You could even visit ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the surroundings.

Communicate With Everyone (About Everything)

While you’re planning, be open about what you want to be. Hopefully, your immediate family and close friends understand your needs, but if you’re visiting extended family, they may not be as familiar with your lifestyle. Sometimes, people need a reminder to chill out and be understanding with family and friends; the holidays are much more about relationships than they are material things.

Addressing concerns your family may have will make them comfortable, but never do so if it involves sharing more than you want to. Disability is often an elephant in the room that non-disabled people are uncertain how to accommodate. Helping them to understand can make planning easier for everyone involved.  

Frank discussion may reveal that a relative can’t create accessible space for you. If that’s the case, and you feel comfortable, you can consider hosting a gathering at your place or suggesting an area that you know is accessible. This way, you know your needs will be met and you aren’t put in a position where you need to consistently explain yourself or make adjustments for others.

Having family together for the holidays can contribute to squabbling and keep tensions high; to avoid making a bad situation worse, remind family members and friends the reason for the season.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

There may be some days where you just can’t get out of the house due to weather conditions or because you just need to rest amid all the hustle and bustle. You know yourself and your body best, and your first priority is to take care of yourself.

If you need to, excuse yourself from the day’s plans. Trust that your friends and family will be understanding of your need to rest. Those who value you and your health may be disappointed, but they won’t turn it into a personal issue or take offense.

If it’s something you were really looking forward to, or you know that you would mentally and emotionally benefit from getting out of the house and being social, bring it up with those involved. It may be that you can delay or reschedule the activity. If not, you can potentially make plans to meet up with them later in the day for something more low-key.

As always, communication is key. Be open with what you want and need, but don’t forget that taking care of you is your number one priority. Enjoy the time you get to spend with family and friends, and let the hope and love you’re surrounded with sustain the season.

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