Making plans with busy friends is already challenging
enough—but on top of typical scheduling conflicts, your friends with
disabilities have important considerations you might not have to think
about. Everything from the controllable (the location, the time,
transportation) to the uncontrollable (weather, energy levels, anxiety
levels) will be a factor.
Helping take care of some of the controllable variables
will be an immense help for a disabled friend—and you can go the extra
mile by making plans that can adapt around the uncontrollable.
Whether it’s a hang-out or a help-out, find specific ways to be a support.
If you’re meeting in person, consider the venue
Things that might not seem overwhelming to you—crowd size,
noise level, how far of a walk it will be from the parking lot to the
venue, the heat or cold, etc.—can be massively daunting for people with
certain disabilities. Try to take everyone in the group into
consideration when making plans.
If your friend uses mobility aids (prosthetics,
wheelchairs, canes, etc.), are there accessibility features and
handicapped parking if needed? Is the venue outdoors on a hot summer day
and you have a heat-sensitive friend? Are there nearby bathrooms for
friends with IBS? Is there loud music or big crowds that might be
overstimulating to someone with autism or other sensory processing
disorders? Will you be stuck sitting at a high-top table or bar seating,
which can be difficult for those with prosthetics?
- DO ask your friend if there’s anything you should keep in mind
when you choose a venue. Once you have a place in mind, do some online
research or call ahead to confirm details that work for everyone in the
- DON’T stop inviting your disabled friend, even if they can’t make it most times. We want to be included in the plans and considered part of the group!
Be flexible and understanding about last-minute changes
I used to have this old phone with a horrible battery that
would never hold a charge consistently. Some days, 100% would get me 12
hours of life. Some days, I’d only get six. Sometimes the battery would
be at 46% and then just…die. Sometimes at 1% battery my phone would run
for another couple hours.
This phone has become my metaphor of managing my own
levels, mental and physical. I can do the same thing every day, sleep or
recharge the same amount of time, and every day is still unpredictable.
So when including friends with disabilities,
understand we likely won’t be able to accurately gauge our physical or
mental ability to attend until a few days (or hours) beforehand.
Understand that cancelling plans doesn’t bring us pleasure (if
anything, we feel extra guilty about it) and extend patience and
- DO follow up with us close to the start of the event if you need to know headcount—but stress that it’s totally okay if the original RSVP needs to change.
- DON’T take it personally, guilt trip your friend or feel the need to cancel
if others are involved. We totally understand and want you all to still
have fun with the original plans (unless you want to reschedule!).
Help those with disabilities feel more at-ease in social settings
Take the pressure off friends who are socially anxious or not able to read situational cues as well.
Many people with disabilities like autism struggle to both
understand and express emotions naturally. People with mental illnesses
or disabilities can also often feel a need to “info dump” or
overcommunicate to fill space.
Some friends establish hand signals to let each other know
when it’s okay to stop talking. Other friends will be especially great
at making sure a disabled friend is not interrupted when trying to
articulate their own point at a slower pace.
Listening and using straightforward language can be a huge
help—a great rule of thumb for a neurodivergent friend is to “say what
you mean and mean what you say.”
- DO ask your neurodivergent friends how they are feeling
if you aren’t sure. What a neurodivergent person seems to express on
the outside doesn’t always match what they are experiencing. Asking can
prevent misunderstandings for both of you.
- DON’T rush to offer physical support. If
a neurodivergent friend is having a meltdown, shutdown or is
struggling, your first instinct might be to stay near them, hug them or
“be there” for them, when for a lot of neurodivergent people, that is
the last thing they want. The best thing typically is to get away from
everyone and all stimulation—but that differs from person to person. You
can always ask a friend (when they are not currently in the middle of a
shutdown) what their preferred response is.
Research what might be helpful for the challenges a friend is facing
Offering “I’m here to help with anything” or asking “What
can I do to help?” puts the responsibility on the person with the
disability to articulate their needs, which can be mentally exhausting
and overwhelming. Especially on an already-hard day.
If you want to find useful ways to offer support,
there are a lot of great resources online—from social media to blogs to
support groups. You don’t need to focus on understanding the
disability from a medical standpoint but look for information and
stories about living life with this disability and what common obstacles
- DO offer specific examples of support.
“Hey, I’d like to bring you dinner sometime this week. Can you let me
know what day would work best for you?” is a great example of specific
support on a flexible timeframe. You can also offer to try a new PT
exercise video with a friend, pick up groceries for someone…whatever you
can think of will mean a lot.
- DON’T push a friend about specific ways you can be a support
when you sense they’re already having a hard day. Asking “Are you sure
there’s nothing I can do to help?” will not help us know any better what
kind of help to ask for—most times, we don’t even know what kind of
help we need.
Share some of the burden with a cleaning party
For people with depression and other disabilities, it can
be hard to keep up with the chores of keeping a house clean and
And so a trend of “cleaning parties” is growing amid
allies and friends to alleviate some of the mental load. It might be
cliché, but a clean home is a clean mind, and taking some of those
to-do’s off the list lets your disabled friend focus on other important
to-do’s, like taking care of themselves.
Here’s what to do:
- Schedule a time to show up.
- Assure your friend there is no pressure to tidy, clean,
shower or worry about appearances. Heck, they can hide away in a back
room and not even say hello.
- Show up with cleaning supplies to tackle loads of laundry, piles of dishes or overflowing recycling bins.
- DON’T JUDGE. Your disabled friend is being very
vulnerable by letting you come into their mess. Know that your being
there means a lot to everyone involved.