Creating a Visitable Home for the Holidays: Developmental Disabilities

Visitability is traditionally a concept that means creating a home that can be visited by people with mobility impairments.  This series of posts looks to expand this idea to include making homes visitable by people with a wide variety of common disabilities, functional limitations, or health conditions.  The key idea is that a home isn’t just built for one person or even one family, but should be welcoming to all people in the community who may want to visit.

The holidays are a time when the visitability of homes get tested. Grandma struggles to get up the steps to the front door, Uncle Jon trips over the bathroom rug, and Cousin Mary isn’t able to come because she is worried about how her child with autism will handle the crowd.  People often aren’t aware of the multitude of barriers that can make visiting others’ homes challenging, and often these barriers can stop some people from coming to visit altogether.

However, some simple improvements can be made to homes to increase visitability for a variety of people, making your home more welcoming to everyone.  While not all these ideas are true home modifications, they accommodations that are fairly quick and easy things you can do today.

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Look for more examples in this series, creating a visitable home:

Top 5 Quick Ideas for Visitors who have Developmental Disabilities

Chances are someone in your family has a developmental disability (it is estimated about 6% of people have a developmental disability). Some common developmental disabilities are autism spectrum disorder, Down Syndrome, attention disorders, and fetal alcohol syndrome. Each health condition is unique, as is each person, but a common feature for most people is intellectual disabilities (difficulty with cognitive or thinking skills). 

It is important to remember that developmental disabilities affect both children and adults. People with developmental disabilities often have other health concerns or limitations as well, such as in sensory processing, motor skills, language and communication skills, sensory impairment (hearing or vision issues), and/or motor impairments. 

What can you do?  First, offer and askMake sure to offer your holiday invitations to everyone, making clear that you are inviting the person with a disabilities. Families and caregivers of people with developmental or intellectual disabilities often feel very uncertain or stressed about accepting invitations at the holidays, so the extra words of kindness with your invitation can go a long way. Next, just ask. Ask if there is anything that would make the visit easier or more comfortable for the family. Ask if they need any additional information prior to the event to help them prepare. Ask what ways you can help at the event, maybe allowing a family to arrive early before the chaos or giving a short tour to help them adjust to the new environment.

When you hear the answer, “I would love to, but…”, ask if there is anything you can do to help find a way to make it work.  

Home Modification Ideas:

1. Scan for safety. Similar to making a home safe for young children, scan for dangers and make your home as safe as reasonable. Put valueables and breakables out of reach if guests may be tempted to touch objects. Move trip hazards off the floor and pay attention to thing that could be pull down (like flat screen TVs) or climbed on (like coffee table or shelves). Put dangerous things in locked locations (i.e. tools, household cleaners and chemical, ect.). Don’t have locked locations? Zip ties, bike locks, or luggage locks  can help for a short-term visit.  Use simple baby gates to block off stairs or hallways/doorways that are not safe. Close and lock doors of rooms that are off-limits (child-proofing door knob covers, or small hook and eye locks are easy to install up high on doors) or just hang bells on a door handle or hook at top of the door so you can hear if it is opened. Realistically, you can’t make your entire home perfectly safe, but try to find one area of the home that can be used for socializing and playing, and make this one space really safe and inviting for your guests with special needs.

2. Bathrooms. Make sure to tell the family where the bathrooms are they can use. Offer a bathroom space that is large enough for 2 people to allow a caregiver to assist if needed. Some people will need room to help with hygiene cares, changing clothing, or other bathroom needs, which require more time and space. Offer a chair to sit on if helpful or a step stool for shorter guests to reach a sink.  Just like #1, check the bathroom for safety and keep the environment simple. Include a trash can with a lid and/or extra plastic bags, just in case they are needed.

3. Dining. Create a dining place that is durable and easy to clean to allow guests to eat without fear of spilling or creating a mess.  While nice table cloths and carpet are beautiful, they create stress for people who may be messy eaters (and their caregivers). Eat over durable floors or lay down a mat under the table.  Have some seating options that are sturdy and durable for those who may need that option (card tables and chairs are often too wobbly).  Keep a clear pathway to reach the food and dining seats to allow everyone easy access.

4. Quiet Spot. Have a quiet spot, away from all the activity for people to use. Keep this place simple and safe, with room for at least a person and a caregiver. This place may be used for a person who gets easily overwhelmed and fatigued and needs a rest break. Or, this place may be used as a refuge for a parent with an upset child who needs a safe place to regroup. Offer to let a family store their personal items in this room and “set up camp” for as long as needed.

5. Ask about wandering. Ask a family if a person may try to wander in the home or leave the home. Help the family by creating a safe place for the person that may include closing doors, adding gates, or locking home entrances to prevent eloping (running from a home).

Have a great idea that I missed?  Send me an email to share your thoughts at beyondaccessibility@paigehays.net .