A little preparation will ensure that your handicapped guests (or those with temporary medical considerations) will have a great time.
Before your gathering, research your guest’s disability – the more you know about their needs or any special care or accessibility required, the more prepared you’ll be. Two great places to begin your research are WebMD and Medscape. As with any research project, consult multiple sources to confirm what you learn.
Preparing for a few hours to an overnight visit: If you are already acquainted with your guest (as opposed to knowing one of your other guests will bring him or her along), try to arrange an advanced visit. Meeting beforehand without hordes of other people around will allow you to discuss accessibility issues on site. Come up with a plan that ensures your guest’s privacy and dignity during bathroom visits, but without leaving the guest to fend for his- or herself. For a disabled guest that you don’t know well, make it very clear that they’re welcome to bring a caregiver. Keep in mind that when a disabled guest is accompanied by a spouse, the spouse may not be physically able to assist the disabled guest. Either allow the couple to bring, and plan to also accommodate, a caregiver for help with bathroom visits, or offer your personal help.
Preparing for extended stays: If your disabled guest is staying for several nights to a week, you should make extra accessibility preparations for their safety and comfort, starting with bathroom accessibility. A raised toilet seat with padded arms will work with your existing toilet, and can be removed after the visit. To help your guest shower with minimal help, there are shower benches with arms that work in your shower or tub. Both of these will run you less than $100. If your guest travels frequently, he or she may bring these along, so check before buying. At the least, grab rails near the commode and in the shower/bathtub area should be installed. A hand-held shower head makes showering much easier for someone that must use a shower bench; make sure it’s within their reach when you leave them to shower. If you don’t already already use a non-slip mat inside the tub and non-skid rugs on the bathroom floor, make sure you have them in place by the time your guest arrives. To accommodate wheelchair, walker or cane users, temporarily rearrange your furniture layout to widen the main route through your home. This is especially important along the direct path to the bathroom from your guest’s bedroom (and ideally, their bedroom will be on the main floor of your home and close to a bathroom).
In addition to moving furniture, pay attention to placement of accent rugs, pet beds, magazine racks or baskets, floor lamps, oversized planters, and any unsecured cords that might get caught by a crutch, cane, or a walker leg. If necessary, arrange more lighting so your guest can clearly see where they’re going in any room. Secure enthusiastic, curious pets so your little buddy’s paw doesn’t get crushed beneath a walker leg or a cane. Keep floors exceptionally clean from cooking oil buildup and salad dressing spills. Secure area rugs with rug pads or brush-on non-skid backing. For throw rugs and runners, the safest thing you can do is remove those until your visit is finished – they don’t play well with crutches, wheelchairs or walkers.
When preparing a gift basket for a disabled guest, be sensitive to their special needs. Someone with diminished vision might appreciate large-text reading material or puzzle books for relaxing before bed. For guests taking periodic doses of medication, make sure their welcome basket includes bottled water and snacks to buffer an empty stomach from their medication. Slippers or non-skid socks are very thoughtful gifts, if your guest’s medications make them more sensitive to cold (very common with heart or blood pressure medications).
Outside considerations: Before any guests arrives, make sure your steps and sidewalks are free of snow and ice. (And just to cover all bases, make sure your homeowners’ liability policy is paid up. You just never know.) If necessary to ensure accessibility at our home’s entrance, lay a width of plywood over your steps to create a temporary wheelchair ramp for the disabled guest. Have other adults stand at the ramp’s bottom to prevent it from slipping.
Finally: To appreciate your disabled guest’s experience in your home, move a standard dining chair to all the positions your guests may need to reach, for instance, appetizer trays or wine in ice buckets. If someone in a wheelchair can’t access these things, find a way to lower the items, or at least some items, perhaps onto a covered end table or TV tray. Leave some extra hand towels near anything that might drip water (condensation on glasses or anything in ice buckets), as hand towels are perfectly sized for covering a lap. Make a few small efforts to ensure the comfort of your disabled guest, and he or she will greatly appreciate the consideration.