5 Easy ways to include your disabled friends

Most of my friends are abled, which is how it’s been pretty much my entire life. Ever since I was a kid, I was usually the only one in a wheelchair in class or in a group of friends. If there was another disabled person, it was almost always my brother. And being the friend in a wheelchair definitely affects how we make plans together.

There’s a lot in my area that I can do. But I don’t have nearly the same kind of freedom to go or do whatever that my friends do. Tons of places still have steps in their entrances or spaces too crowded. Plenty of activities I can’t do, like mini golf or swimming at the beach, or anything else physically demanding. Plus, I can’t drive myself so I’m just not able to get where I need to go independently. Unfortunately, not living in a major city means accessible Ubers aren’t really a thing where I live. All of this adds up to one thing: I’ve grown up getting pretty used to being excluded.

I’m not telling you any of this to make it sound like including disabled people is unreasonably difficult and therefore acceptable to not do so. Just to show that there’s a lot to think about and I can understand how it might be overwhelming trying to figure out to be inclusive, especially if it’s new for you.

That being said, here are a few simple ways to include your disabled friends and loved ones!

[IMG: Karly sitting in her wheelchair in front of a carnival ride wearing a pink tshirt and jeans. She’s holding a small rainbow stuffed bear.]

Invite them, even if you’re pretty sure they’re going to say no

Scrolling through social media only to see picture of your friends hanging out without you and wondering why they didn’t invite you is one of my least favorite human experiences. For me, I’d rather be invited and have to say no than to not even be asked. With disability or chronic illness, it’s hard to predict how you’ll be feeling in a few days. Or even in a few hours. It’s also pretty hard to assume what someone is or isn’t able to do. So make it easier for yourself – just invite them! Inviting someone gives them the chance to make it there if they’re feeling up to it or make the decision for themselves whether they’re able to participate.

Do some research before making a plan

I forever envy my abled friends’ ability to just pick up and go somewhere new without wondering whether or not they’ll actually be able to get in. Because when I want to do anything new, I have to research. Most places have the bare minimum when it comes to accessibility info, if they even have anything at all.

If you’re making a plan, go ahead and research the how accessible a venue or activity is. Things like steps at entrances, table heights and availability of non booth tables, parking, if there will be an interpreter, or if the bathrooms are on the first floor and accessible. Don’t be afraid to send an email or make a few phone calls. The more you help out with this step the easier it becomes to make accessible plans in the future.

Let your disabled friend take the lead

On the flip side, sometimes the best thing you can do is hand over the reigns. Let them be in charge of planning. Being flexible and down to play things by ear is a great way to be inclusive, because sometimes you can plan all you want and still show up to find out it’s actually not accessible after all. Or they could have a bad pain day or get sick and need to change up the activity. No one is going to know what they need better than they do, so just listen and have an open mind.

Check in with them

It can be really hard to voice your struggles, especially when you’re with a group of people or you’re doing something you’ve been looking forward to. No one wants to feel like the downer on a fun day, and sometimes it can be embarrassing to explain what’s going on. So, there might be times when your disabled friend might not feel comfortable voicing the fact that they’re not having a good time.

Check in with them, make sure they are. That the accommodations are working for them and that they’re actually being included. In a large group outing, it can be really easy for disabled people to be left out of conversation, especially in a noisy or hectic environment or they’re the only one in a wheelchair and much lower than everyone else speaking. There’s no need to coddle them and you don’t need to make a big deal out if it either. It can be as simple as letting them know beforehand that you have their back if they need you, that they can feel free to pull you aside if something isn’t going well. Or asking them on the way home if everything was okay, what did or didn’t work so you know for next time.

Go to them instead of going out

Some disabled people, myself included, have a hard time keeping up with super active social life that involves going out frequently. The other really hard thing? Finding friends with accessible homes. So many houses are wildly inaccessible. One of the easiest ways to be inclusive? Just go to them!

Embracing a day in at your friends house is awesome. Comfy clothes and board games or movie nights are a classic, you honestly can’t go wrong with that. So make an effort to go over to their house instead of coffee dates or dinners out. Suggest it when you’re getting a group together. Staying in absolutely doesn’t equal boring.

Including disabled friends isn’t difficult, it just requires a little more thought and flexibility. Which are two skills that are never bad to have!

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