Including People with Disabilities in Your Summer Parties

Summer is often a time for celebrations – weddings, birthday parties, and cookouts among others. While most people look forward to these events, frequently it is a difficult time for people with disabilities and their family and friends.

Hosting a gathering of these sorts is a good time to practice inclusive values and good intentions so that everyone has a good time and nobody feels left out, but many times, hosts feel ill-equipped because of lack of exposure and experience and potentially hidden layers of ignorance, ableism, exclusion, and resentment.

The good news is that integrating people with disabilities such as hearing or visual disabilities, unintelligible speech, autism, or those who use wheelchairs is possible. We have gathered a few tips to make certain everyone feels comfortable and enjoys summer celebrations.

1. Reach out to the invitee and/or parents and caregivers.

The first step to easing the stress of hosting a party that accommodates all guests is communication. Simply ask the person with the disability, caregivers, or parents what their needs are to be included. It’s likely the easiest way to manage expectations and make sure the party is enjoyable for all — and you need not be worried about making a big deal about the person with a disability. Most people with disabilities know on some level what they need, and what they are and aren’t comfortable with and prefer to be asked. Some questions you may want to ask:

  • How can we provide comfortable places to sit and rest so that you can be fully a part of the group?
  • If we are moving to different activities. What do we need to have in place to make sure you can move between those places?
  • There may be some background noise during the party. How can we help accommodate for that so you can fully participate in conversations? Do you have any sensitivity to loud or startling noises, like sudden laughing or cheering? How can we help you if those situations arise?
  • Do we need to be aware of any lighting needs that may help you get around more easily?
  • Would it be beneficial to have a space set aside in case you need to step away and have a quiet moment?

2. Be mindful of the environment and atmosphere.

This should be obvious, but accessibility still isn’t a regular item on most people’s event planning checklists. And as many people with disabilities will tell you, accessibility isn’t even always a routine priority in families, workplaces, and friend groups with people with disabilities in them.

Loud music and bright lights are often thought of as staples of a lively party, but both can be triggering for those who have autism, epilepsy, and other disabilities.

If a person does feel triggered or overwhelmed, you’ll want to ensure that there’s a safe place for the person to take a break. This could be a quiet bedroom or outdoor space.

If you are planning events in your home and you want to include people with physical disabilities, consider whether there are barriers you can easily fix. For instance:

  • Setting up safe, portable ramps for small steps.
  • Rearranging furniture to widen pathways and accommodate both wheelchairs and other mobility aids, like crutches and walkers.
  • Provide or ask to bring, raised toilet seats for bathrooms.

3. Include disability and wheelchair-inclusive party games.

  • Quizzes and guessing games- You can’t go wrong with a game like “name that tune” or “guess the movie.” For fans of music and movies, these are great games for friends and family. They require minimal supplies and effort to set up or physical movement to play which makes them the perfect party game for everyone and all abilities.
  • Act/draw it out games- Charades or team Pictionary (to support each other) can be fun for smaller gatherings for all ages.
  • Music games- Instead of musical chairs, adapt the game so it instead uses flat objects such as pictures or posters for players to stand on or move their wheelchairs onto. There’s nothing like music to get the party going! Gather the players and line up some flat objects on the floor, one less than the number of people. Each participant should circulate around the line and when the music stops, whoever isn’t situated on an object will be eliminated, and so on.
  • Throwing/rolling games- Cornhole or beanbag toss is a great game that is relatively easy to set up. 

4. Address attitudes.

Kids and adults can be hesitant when encountering someone who is different from them. If it is a children’s event, you can talk to the group at the start of the party about kindness and respect for each other and each other’s differences. A party is a great opportunity for kids to learn about one another.

5. Take disability requests seriously.

We all want to think that we will always respond positively and helpfully when a friend or relative has a disability-related need. But most people with disabilities have also experienced resistance, disbelief, and even ridicule when they make “special” requests, even from some of the people closest to them.

This is partly because disabilities are vastly more diverse than just wheelchairs and walkers. They involve conditions and needs that a lot of people don’t understand, and some people suspect aren’t “real” in some way.

To that end, you will need to work hard to ensure that your questions are sincere and your willingness to accommodate is authentic. 

6. No pressure!

Most people with disabilities at one time or another choose to deal with physically or mentally strenuous situations by opting out of things they might otherwise like to do. Let them do this. 

Don’t let inclusion stress you out. If you are reading this list and considering these tips, you’re already doing more than most! Stay positive, smile, and throw that PARTY!


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