Any time of year is the right time to ensure all guests are comfortable in your home. I’m not suggesting you buy a new memory foam, pillowtop mattress, but rather look at your space and your offerings, and do your best to provide a welcoming environment for all of your guests.  

Environment: Is there a barrier at your front door that would prevent a wheelchair — manual or power — from entering your home? Are you planning to play music? Will it be loud? Will it stream through the house? How about scents? Are you burning candles? Wax melts? Do you have scented pine cones? And what about lighting? Do you have flashing lights? Bright lights? 

All of these elements make for a fantastic holiday setting, but these same features might be overwhelming to some guests. Confirm you have a way for guests to enter your home — a ramp if necessary — and access to the room(s) in which you will be entertaining. Have a quiet space — a space free from scent, with low lighting — should a guest need a break. 

Dietary: Are you offering your guests snacks? A meal? Have you inquired about food allergies? 

As we have learned over the last many years, there are people whose lives can be threatened by mere exposure. Making sure you have a safe food space will show you care about your guests. Perhaps you have a guest with food aversions, sensitivities or other sensory issues. Understand if a guest brings his or her own food and don’t be offended. If a parent has brought food for a child, be thankful the child will have what he or she wants. Children with sensory issues will often refuse to eat food they are unfamiliar with. The forethought of the parent is likely to be a game-changer when food is served.  

Gifting: If you are planning a gift exchange that includes children, or if you are buying gifts for a child, consider their interests and abilities. While we often use age as a measure for what to purchase, chronological age and developmental age are not always equal. You might have a teenage guest who enjoys animated shows from PBS. Maybe that young guest still loves “Dora the Explorer.” In this example, a gift card to iTunes would probably not excite the recipient, but a coloring book of Dora might be amazing. Alternatively, you might have a young guest who is an avid fan of science and numbers. Sudoku? ​“Big Book of Experiments​?” As you would with anyone, consider their interests when selecting a gift. If you have a guest that has a physical disability, consider what he or she can do before purchasing a gift. If your guest is challenged in the area of fine motor skills, a calligraphy set would not be appropriate. These same considerations should be given to guests with a visual impairment, hearing impairment or other physical disabilities. When it comes to intellectual disabilities, knowing what to buy can be difficult. Enlist the help of parent(s), a caregiver, friend or other trusted source. There are great gift guides available, including this year’s edition from Ellen Seidman of the blog Love That Max. Her guide is full of wonderful suggestions and can be found at lovethatmax.com/2019/11/best-gifts-kids-teens-disabilities-2019.html.

Doing these things will cause your guests to feel welcome and touched by your thoughtfulness. The holidays are a time for celebration, but remember, not everyone can be happy unless they’re in the right environment. JN

Sharon Landay is a student support specialist at Gesher Disability Resources, the interim religious school director at Congregation Or Tzion and the proud mother of Sophia and Samantha.

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