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How to Help Guests With Disabilities Feel Welcome in Your Home

Entertaining overnight guests can offer excellent opportunities to grow closer with others, especially when you make sincere efforts to help your guests feel comfortable and included. This is particularly true if a visitor has a disability. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 61 million Americans, or one in four U.S. adults, have a disability that impacts major activities in their life. Mobility is the most common type of disability, and its frequency increases with age. Other disabilities include cognition, hearing, and vision impairment.

Generally, individuals with disabilities want to access the same experiences as non-disabled individuals. However, with a few simple adjustments and a positive, supportive attitude, you can open your door and help them feel welcome in your home.

1. Discuss your visitor’s needs and preferences.

Since everyone’s needs vary, including people who share the same disability, don’t assume you understand someone’s limitations.

Have a conversation several days or weeks before your guest’s arrival. Find out what aspects of your home could present movement and other challenges. How might you create workarounds? 

In addition to identifying challenges in your home’s physical features, ask about other limitations and preferences. For example, do they have dietary restrictions or favorite foods and beverages? Where do they like to set the thermostat? Do they use captions when watching television?

Planning ahead can help make every guest feel welcome, regardless of their disability status.

2. Evaluate and make adjustments.

You may be so accustomed to your home that you could navigate it in total darkness. But pretend you’re seeing it through your visitor’s eyes for the first time. Imagine how your home will work for them and what obstacles they could face.

Living room seating:

Is the furniture spaced too closely for someone using a walker, crutches, or another assistive device? Would it help to rearrange or remove some smaller items, like an end table, to create extra space around the seating?

Is there at least one chair or couch that your guest will find comfortable? Typically, someone with limited mobility will prefer firmer chairs with armrests over low, deep sofas with soft cushions. 

Consider offering a pillow or a rolled-up towel for additional lumbar support. Your guest may also appreciate a way to elevate their feet, whether it’s a footrest or space on a coffee table.

Dining area:

Will it be easy for everyone to access a comfortable space at the table for meals? For example, if your guest uses a wheelchair, keeping the end of the table open may work best for them.

Other considerations:

Can you clear any clutter that crowds your floor space and could create tripping hazards, like shoes at the entrance or toys in the living room? 

Loose throw rugs and long electrical cords can also cause accidental falls. Consider removing them or taping them down. You may also want to offer your guest slippers or socks with grips on the soles.

Try to prevent potentially awkward situations. For example, if you have fragile items sitting on a table that might break if accidentally bumped, put them away.

3. Pay special attention to the bedroom and bathroom.

Ideally, you can offer your guest a spare bed at a standard height. However, sofa beds and inflatable mattresses can be especially difficult for someone with mobility issues.

Make the bed with a plush set of sheets and blankets. Then, since some people run hot and others run cold, spread one or two extra, optional blankets at the foot of the bed. 

Ensure there’s a light and an outlet (for charging cords) within easy reach of the bed. Your guest may appreciate a nightlight and an alarm clock, too. It may also be helpful to position a sturdy, firm chair near the side of the bed.

In the bathroom, make sure any rugs have a nonskid backing and add a mat to your tub or shower to prevent slipping while bathing. Your guest may also appreciate a shower chair or bench, depending on their needs. They can be purchased online and are relatively inexpensive.

4. Encourage positive communications.

Creating a safe, comfortable space in your home includes open and respectful communication. This is true for every visitor but is critically important when your guest has a disability. 

When your guest arrives, show them around and ask them to tell you if they spot any issues or concerns. Assure them that it’s okay to ask questions, make requests, and point out any mistakes you may make.  

Offer help, but don’t be pushy or presumptuous. For example, make it clear that you don’t want to hover.

Finally, don’t worry about perfection. It’s more important to be welcoming and make minor adjustments that demonstrate that you care.