Including You: A Disability Rights Arkansas Podcast

Including You In the Holidays

December 22, 2023 Disability Rights Arkansas Season 2 Episode 2
Including You: A Disability Rights Arkansas Podcast
Including You In the Holidays
Including You: A Disability Rights AR Podcast
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Welcome to a special episode of 'Including You', where we discuss creating an inclusive holiday experience that goes far beyond the wrapping paper and ribbons. Hear from Mollie Hernandez and Jen Goodwin share how to make sure your holiday activities are inclusive for all.

We cover everything from accommodating food sensitivities with grace to ensuring the physical space is navigable for guests with disabilities. And because no holiday is complete without the shared experience of a classic film, we reveal simple tweaks like audio descriptions and closed captioning that can bring everyone together. With our guests' personal anecdotes and a little tech magic from gadgets like heated blankets and smart home scent systems, we'll guide you through a holiday season where inclusion and innovation make for the perfect celebration.

Guests

  • Mollie Hernandez, Advocate, DRA
  • Jen Goodwin, Attorney, DRA



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Lani Jennings-Hall:

Welcome to Including You: A Disability Rights Arkansas podcast. I'm your host, Lani Jennings-Hall, and joining me today are two advocates and thought leaders Mollie Hernandez and Jen Goodwin. In this special episode, we'll unwrap the art of celebrating the holidays inclusively, exploring everything from practical tips for a seamless holiday season to creating traditions that warmly embrace everyone. We'll share intots on preparing for gatherings, discuss innovative ways to ensure everyone feels welcome during this festive time and delve into our ultimate wish list of gifts. So, whether you're seeking advice on making your holiday spread more accessible or hoping to discover thoughtful, inclusive gift ideas, join us today as we celebrate the magic of the season while ensuring it's truly for everyone. Welcome to Including you. Thank you, guys for joining me again today. I really want to dive right on in here. You know, preparing for the holidays, it can be stressful, it can be intense, and you know we all need a few tips, tricks and tools to really make sure we can get through this as seamlessly as possible. Mollie, you want to kick us off with some of your hacks?

Mollie Hernandez:

Sure, and Merry Christmas Lani, Merry Christmas Jen. I'm so excited to kick off the holidays with you guys. So I love the holidays, I love all things and I think over the years I've learned to kind of problem solve and figure out my way around things. Jen, I know you have too, I think, one of the big things as a person with a disability if you've listened to our podcast before, I'm blind, so that adds an extra layer of challenge when I'm kind of hiding away gifts and wrapping gifts and things. So for me, organization is key. One of my favorite tools that has disappeared on me and I mean from store shelves was a pop up tape dispenser, which was just. I could wear it on my hand or wrist and use the tape, get that tape piece by piece as I needed it. I cannot find those anywhere, but that's been one of my favorites. Otherwise, when I go to wrap a gift, I can't do it at a table. I don't know why I have to be down in the floor.

Jen Goodwin:

Like we've got to get down and dirty.

Mollie Hernandez:

We got to, I got to wrestle the package, so I roll out my paper, I put my packages on there, but I have to physically have what I need on me, because I'm going to be the person that loses my scissors, loses everything, and so I like wearing my workout leggings that have the pockets on either side that you would think would be like for your cell phone. I'm geared up with scissors and it's like a holster for me and that way it's on me while I'm wrapping. Now I can't write very well on name tags. It's not going to work out for me. So typically I have to be organized in advance. Have my one person I'm wrapping for, have it in a stack, and then I'll have someone else go ahead and do the tagging.

Mollie Hernandez:

I would say, if you're a friend of a person with a disability and you want to just be an amazing friend, offer one night. Say I'm coming over with a bottle of wine and we're going to put in a Christmas movie and let's wrap together. Let's just hang out. It's a ton of fun and you can kind of be that wingman on the wrapping and help with that. Amen to that. Yes, I mean that's a gift in and of itself. If you just want to come hang out and wrap and have some fun, I can guarantee you we would have a blast. Another thing that I do is sometimes I outsource it to that. We do have a nonprofit in town that one of their fundraisers is to wrap your gifts for you, for a donation.

Mollie Hernandez:

Now there's a little bit of work on the front end where you need to have everything super organized. But who couldn't benefit from that? But you drop it off for them and then they'll call you when it's all done. And that's in the years that I can't get it done. And I mean, let's face it, we can't all get it all done without help. It's the way to go and I know I'm spreading a little Christmas cheer and some donations to a group that needs it, so it's kind of a win-win on that. But wrapping is not easy. But I think if we think creatively we can get it done. And gift bags Don't forget gift bags. I have children and children at Christmas. They're going to push that tissue aside, so I want things wrapped up as best I can.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

I have found a new tool that I love, because I yes, I'm definitely usually in the one down and dirty on the ground as well. Something about you just got to wrap, I don't know, but I did see a new tool this year where you can clip it onto like a counter or a table and slide your wrapping paper on the roll. You can put your tape on the end of it, and so it keeps everything all together in one component. So it keeps wrapping paper tape, all of it, and you just slide the wrapping paper out and it just keeps it all together. It's wonderful.

Jen Goodwin:

What's the name you may link for that one, please? Yes.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

I will, I'll share it out, and then you just slide it down and it cuts your wrapping paper for you, because that's like. My issue is like with the scissors it just doesn't go well for me. So yeah, I'm investing in one of those this year.

Jen Goodwin:

So, similarly, this is Jen, and again, merry Christmas to everyone and happy holidays, all the things. So I am quadriplegic, so I have limited hand function and I'm a chair user also, so one of the things that I am not doing is getting in the floor with my gifts. So on present wrapping night at my house I have a card table that's set up and it looks like a whole gift wrapping station. So Saiyan, super Organized, having all the wrapping in one area and all the bows and everything else set up. So the new gadget that I bought this year it's called the ELF and it actually goes on to the wrapping paper roll and again, it's kind of like what you mentioned, lainey, where you just slide it down and it will cut your paper straight, and so that's what I'm planning to use for wrapping this year.

Jen Goodwin:

But I also like to incorporate my eight year old and my two year old into the wrapping process and let them take ownership of some of that. I have to get away from my perfectionist tendencies to allow some loose edges and just have a little fun with it when you know packages are a little loose and that's okay, because they were wrapped with love by an eight year old and you know, have some extra bows and just let my kids take ownership and put them wherever they want and call it a day. Instead of using little tags that I have to spend time taping on, I grab a Sharpie marker and write a name on the back and call it a day.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

So I like that. Yeah, I like that a lot. I've also seen recently people have started using just like stickers for like the first initial or letter to or yeah, or like pictures if it's someone they're close to, rather than having to write names, because that's where I struggle as well. Like the tags.

Mollie Hernandez:

You just don't have enough space on some of them. So now something I've done before in the past with my children. But once you start getting into the extended family it's just impossible. But with my kids they each one would have their own paper and that way that they could tell theirs apart under the tree on Christmas morning. But you know, and my kids are good, of course they're teenagers now but to go ahead and help me label for other people and stuff, so you know again, I think being open to recruiting help and being able to let go a little bit is a key to getting those gifts wrapped and under the tree.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

No, I think that's a great point because, yes, wrapping, all of this is a time of chaos, right, which let's take it a step back a little bit. Shopping, right? If there's ever a time of chaos, it is holiday time shopping. Do you guys have any tips, tricks for holiday shopping?

Jen Goodwin:

Online. Online is a beautiful thing this time of year. One of the things that I've found is that on different groups there are like deals for mamas and that sort of thing. So I've joined those groups and so they are posting, you know, random deals of the day, that kind of thing, and I have gone in and bought so many of those and it's been great, because, as a cheer user, one of the things that gets really irritating to me this time of year is that, you know, the stores pack themselves full of merchandise, which is great, but they take up aisle space where I would normally be able to, you know, navigate the aisles pretty easily. All of a sudden it's really tight and I'm literally pushing stuff out of my way just to get down an aisle. So it gets kind of frustrating. But so I do resort a lot online. There's still something fun about, you know, going out and being in the stores this time of year, so I incorporate that as well, but a little of both.

Mollie Hernandez:

Yeah, Jen is truly a professional. I just want you all to know that was professional advice we were getting. She can work the deals, stack the deals like no other. I think one of my favorite text messages I received recently was at 1: 30 in the morning on Black Friday from Jen sending me a deal that I woke up early at 4: 34 and purchased. So yeah, Jen, take Jen's advice. That's a good thing for you. Right there, it is right there. She knew it. I like to go out into the stores. I enjoy it but, like Jen, it gets crowded, especially working with service animal. It's a chaotic time of year. So I would say, check those extended hours. I just found out last week that TJ Maxx is open from 7 am to 11 pm here and you know again let's talk about if you love someone with a disability, talk to them and say, hey, you want to make an early morning 7 am, run to whatever store or who's up at 11 pm run.

Jen Goodwin:

Let's be real.

Mollie Hernandez:

I'm not gonna say that, yeah, true, so you know, throw that out. If you're wanting to really assist someone, tell them hey, let's check the early hours or the late hours and let's go while it's not so crowded. Or I'm willing to take a day off work, if you are, and let's go on a weekday, not a weekend when it's so crowded, because we do have some additional challenges as we're navigating stores and I am going to be a slower shopper. So those are things you can do to really help someone get get those packages and get get them ready for for Christmas day.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Well, and I think one of the really great point to you guys keep hitting on is communication and, you know, leaning on some support. I think that'll be really important too, coming up into the holiday season with all the parties and the meals and the events that are coming up. I don't think people you know always think about ways that they can be inclusive for those parties. Y'all want to talk a little bit about some tips and tricks about making sure that those events are inclusive for everyone.

Mollie Hernandez:

Okay. So first and foremost, I think Jen and I will both say communicate beforehand. I mean that really helps. Ask us about accessibility and what makes things easier. So, like when we're talking about food I mean you're going to need if you're hosting an event, I mean it's not just looking at disability, it's looking at food sensitivities, allergies.

Mollie Hernandez:

You know there are a lot of people who could be impacted by the foods that are being served or the menu. So first just have that discussion and see what would be best for the person. Allow them to bring their own if they would like, if that would make them more comfortable. Don't make anyone uncomfortable over a menu. I mean, that's not what the holidays are about. So you know, maybe they can't eat grandma's dressing recipe, but they can bring their own alternative and be just fine when preparing the place settings and actually preparing the plate. So this is more relative to me because I'm low, I'm blind and I've been through the years of low vision as well.

Mollie Hernandez:

If you've got a beautiful place setting which my head's off to you if in that you know, with a big party you can pull that off and you've got something like a white tablecloth and white plates and, you know, maybe even the food is not really diverse in color. That makes it very hard for you to distinguish your plate from the placemat and stuff. So I love color and contrast, so those things help me. Then in putting the food on the plate. I can't work a buffet line, that's okay. I mean, buffet is how most of these parties are going to be.

Mollie Hernandez:

But I will need someone to walk through with me and tell me each of the things that there are and put them on the plate for me and then orient me to my plate. You know, at 12 o'clock are your potatoes, at one o'clock is the broccoli. You know things like that to orient me. Very simple, but it just it makes the meal so much more accessible. And again, if one of the things to choose from is spaghetti as opposed to maybe mashed potatoes or something and I know that's a wide variety on the menu I might opt out of the spaghetti just because it's a little more difficult for me to manipulate. I'm not trying to offend anyone. So please don't leave where your heart on your sleeve and be super sensitive to what we do and don't eat, because we know what's accessible to us and we also just know what we like. So it's not meant to insult anyone.

Jen Goodwin:

And I would agree with a lot of what Molly just said on all of that as well.

Jen Goodwin:

So one of the things for me is I probably could make my own plate, but then the whole line is going to be held up behind me and honestly, I would rather just direct someone on the things that I want and, you know, just be willing to listen and willing to jump in there and offered to make my plate for me, with me going through the line with you so that I can tell you what looks good and what doesn't.

Jen Goodwin:

And you know just that I have a place to sit that is accessible for me and that's inclusive with the other people that are at the party. But I want to back up one step on this too and just say invite me to the party, don't exclude me because you think it might be inaccessible. Let me make that call and let that be a judgment call. That's on me to decide, because I've been in a lot of people's houses that have multiple stairs and you know what. I own a ramp, and if not, then I call I can and borrow a ramp from them for the occasion. So let that be my decision, not your decision. Don't exclude me just because you think it might be inaccessible for me.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Jen. I think this is a great point. Let's talk about this just a second. You know you talked about, you've been in the houses that in. Maybe in this instance, you knew you know they had stairs, but I think that's an important, important piece of you know have that communication part. You know like, hey, I do know that we have these stairs. Is there a way that we can? You know, do we need to rent a ramp with Molly? If you know, molly, you have a seeing eye dog. Maybe we've got cats, maybe got a dog, or a situation Is there? Is there anything we need to ensure that this is as accessible and as accommodating as it can be for XYZ party or whatever? I think that those communications and those conversations are important to be an inclusive holiday.

Jen Goodwin:

Right, for me. If you send me a picture of your entrances, then that will help so I can actually look at. I may have, you know, some follow up questions for you on measurements or that sort of thing, if you're. You happen to be handy and it's going to be a place that I'm going to come to multiple times and you want to build a ramp to make it easier than fantastic, you know, if it's going to be something more involved than just what I automatically already have at home. But let's have that communication and just be willing to. You know, send me and think outside the box. So it may be your back door that's more accessible, or the front door, but don't make me will through mud, because I don't want to trick that in your house. So, yeah, just be aware of the path to get to the door also, not just the door itself.

Mollie Hernandez:

I mean truly ask us what is going to make it easier for us and also comfortable for you, because we don't want to be, I guess, problematic. But yeah, we're going to have some certain specific needs and, you know, just asking us take so much of that pressure off of both of us.

Mollie Hernandez:

It'll take it off of you as a host and off of me without having to worry about it. So, yeah, I come in with a guide dog. So if you have animals, pets, please just lock them away for an hour or two because, yes, my dog is highly trained and won't react, but your animal will probably want to sniff and interact and it just makes his job more difficult. So if you can spend an hour or two away from Fluffykins, please do. It just makes it a little easier. As far as arranging your house, you know, unless your furniture is nailed down, look at ways you can make it where there's easier walkways.

Mollie Hernandez:

Houses usually get rearranged a bit when you're putting up trees and things anyway. So if you can try and attend to those walkways so that you know, Jen would have room and clearance for her chair and I'm going to have room with a dog walking on my left and, you know, a space underneath the table where he can sit. There are very simple modifications. It's not stuff to stress about, but if you go into it thinking, oh well, they just wouldn't have space at my house, we're just, you know, not inviting them. That's not the spirit of the holidays. So, you know, ask us, include us If you're doing parties outside of the home. It's very easy to check accessibility for that and if it's a themed party, don't exclude us just due to the nature of the theme.

Mollie Hernandez:

If you're wanting to do a painting party. I'll be a Picasso. I mean, don't think just because Molly can't see she wouldn't want to paint. Same thing for just outdoor adventures. I love, love going on Christmas like tours. Now I'm going to say let's drive through Starbucks or something, but I just, I just enjoy it. I like hearing everyone talk about that. I went through a drive-through nativity this weekend and you know it's to me, it's being with the people. I love whether or not I experience it in the same ways that they do.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

One of the best way I've heard you phrase it was you aren't the judge of what's accessible. For the individual to decide what can and can't be done. That is absolutely not for you as the host, for anyone else to decide. It is for you, as the individual, to decide what is or is not accessible.

Mollie Hernandez:

Yeah, we're the experts on us, let us figure it out.

Jen Goodwin:

And if we decide that it's not accessible, don't be offended if we don't come Also. I mean, sometimes I feel like I get in that, but where it's just going to be so very difficult that my time is going to be spent better elsewhere. So just don't be offended if that's the situation.

Mollie Hernandez:

Yes, we also like to avoid being a spectacle. If we see that that's going to happen, we very well may just say, hey, we'll do dinner another time.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

No, I think that's a great point too. Let's just talk a few other ways of including people with disabilities on the holidays. A little bit closer to Christmas, there may be instances of, like you know, we all play dirty Santa.

Mollie Hernandez:

Yeah, as you're preparing your entertainment and things like that, there's a lot of ways that you can be more inclusive. If we're speaking about being in a crowd and it being noisy and and having music going, work on. Be attentive to the volume of music so that people can converse more easily. People who have hearing impairments they're going to struggle more in these loud settings. I also am, because I don't have that visual cue when I'm speaking to someone to kind of make those connections and get the gist of the conversation. So if I can't hear as well, it's difficult. So work on that kind of have a quiet place where people with sensory issues might be able to go and just take a minute, take a breather, because we know these things are chaotic. If you're playing games, be very attentive to the people who are going to be playing in the games and make sure that all can participate or that you've got an alternative game. I know like my family enjoys playing UNO and I'm not braille literate so I'm not able to play the card game. But if you pull out a trivia game, I'm all over it. Then we can do all kinds of fun trivia.

Mollie Hernandez:

You mentioned Dirty Santa. That involves unwrapping gifts and for me, I can physically unwrap unwrap a gift, but you may have to tell me what I'm unwrapping. Sometimes that's also an awkward moment. But on the flip side of that, let me know what other people are unwrapping. Maybe I want to see someone unwrap that gift that I put a lot of thought into and have a moment to catch that reaction, if I can listen to it. Or if everyone's gasping and ooing and owing over a gift across the room Cue me in, say, hey, molly, this is what they just opened. Also, movie night. I mean, movies are a big part of everyone's holidays. It seems like Whether you've got that family movie that you watch every year. For us it's like the Polar Express or ELF.

Mollie Hernandez:

You know we've got so many that it doesn't matter how many times we've seen it. We're going to see it again. And if you have people with disabilities in your household, go into the settings on those movies and explore the accessibility settings, whether it's audio description, which is what I would use to describe what's happening in the movie, or closed captioning that might assist someone who's not able to hear all the dialogue in a movie. So play with those settings even before people come over, and see what you can do to just make movie night more inclusive.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

But I love about a lot of these tips and tricks. As it's not just the holiday time, like obviously these tips and tricks are great for now, all of the events, parties, all the great things that happen around the holiday time but also they can be used all year round. I think that's really important to remember. But it is the holiday time, so to kind of wrap things up, let's talk about some favorites or things you're looking, maybe you use or you would recommend people to add to their Christmas list, or maybe you have them on your Christmas wish list this year.

Jen Goodwin:

For me. I am always cold, so any warming device of any kind I'm a big fan of I like heated blankets, heated anything really, so just thanks to keep me warm and any type of new technology that's helpful for me in my everyday life. I always think that's great. I got AirPods last year and those have been fantastic for just being able to stay accessible in both a work phone and a home phone or a work phone and a cell phone and those sorts of things just to make it really fluid and easy to go back and forth between. My favorites are always travel things, so any trips and tickets to events and those sorts of things, just make sure they're accessible, because those are always my favorites.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

You can hear more about the accessible travel.

Mollie Hernandez:

On creating your Christmas list. Don't panic If you drew the person with the disability's name, don't be scared. We like mainstream stuff. So I'll second what Jen said about technology. There's a concept called universal design, which a lot of the mainstream technologies and smart devices that everyone loves makes our lives a lot easier. So when you think about maybe Amazon Echo products or Google Home devices, things like that, they can really really be helpful to us. Of course, jen mentioned some Apple products. You can even do a Google search for accessible technology and see what pops up. I've got a few other things. You can tell Jen and I we might like shopping a little bit Some of my favorite items that I've received recently.

Mollie Hernandez:

I have a DreamPad pillow. I love that it's a pillow, but it has a really nice speaker inside so that I can either listen to my phone I like to listen to audiobooks that's typically how I fall asleep at night is listening to audiobooks. But the DreamPad is also marketed for people who have insomnia or maybe some anxiety issues, so you can listen to soothing sounds with some gentle vibrations to kind of help you fall asleep. So huge, huge fan of the DreamPad. Just as a luxury pillow, it's a great pillow.

Mollie Hernandez:

I like hot cocoa and teas and things like that. So I have a cool touch tea kettle, which I don't know how it works, but magically water boils in it really, really fast and I'm able to touch all parts of it and nothing on the outside of it is hot. So it's kind of I'm not going to say it's 100% safe, because watch someone get burned on it but I love mine. I think mine is called a Krupp's Cool Touch Tea Kettle. So I like that. Scented things, self-care, I do love lotions and things like that and I do like candles. But that can present a risk for some disabilities, even for me. I can forget that I've left one burning. But wood-wick candles have a crackling sound because they have a wooden wick and I kind of get that multi-sensory kind of experience with those candles. So those are some of my favorite things that I've received in recent gift-giving exchanges.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

I'll tack onto your kind of sense piece of it. I use a Pura in my house. We have multiple in our household and it is kind of goes along with the technology as well. I control it on my phone so I can switch out the scents. I can make it very. I can't do a lot of strong smells so I can make it a very subtle smell I can. It tells me when it's time to update my little scent vial thing. I can set up the schedule of when it goes on and off. It's wonderful, highly recommend.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Another thing that I recommend I don't do a lot of loud sounds very well. I get sensory overload really bad. So I use this thing called loop earplugs or like ear. They lower the decibel sound in a regular like a loud space. They have different levels of them so I can have them in a regular and have a regular conversation. They also have them where you can be in like a more for like a movie setting or concerts and stuff like that. I use them even in like an office setting. And then another one that I highly recommend is a heated vest. They run on batteries. You can recharge them. They're wonderful. That's been one of my favorite buys this last year, so highly recommend.

Mollie Hernandez:

I love heated vest. I love all heated things. In fact I'm hoping my children won't listen to this before Christmas. But that 1.30 am text Jen sent me was for heated hand warmers. They play tennis even through the winter. I thought, oh to have those in their pockets. So I love all things heated and they're getting those thanks to Jen's 1.30 am. Like Friday shopping.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

What a great find.

Jen Goodwin:

That might be my next career's personal shopping.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Well, any last tip trick comment on, and being including you in the holidays.

Jen Goodwin:

When you come to my house, don't be surprised if the tree is only decorated to about waist high for you. Just kidding, I think we're pretty much a family on that. But you know, it's always a possibility. And for me this year an added bonus was having a two year old in a Christmas tree and as I am wheeling as quickly as possible into the room, saying no, no, no, no, no, he is one more shove and the tree is on the ground. So just extra obstacles to keep life interesting. And now we decided that that wasn't enough and decided to add a new little puppy to the mix too. So Christmas chaos everywhere.

Mollie Hernandez:

Yes, when you talk about just the decorating and the chaos of that, I you know, as a blind person, decorating can get kind of interesting for me too. But I all of my decorations are sentimental, some date back to my grandmother and you know then all the years of you know, growing up and stuff. So I feel like I'm getting acquainted, reacquainted with old friends when I unpack and just get to touch each decoration as it comes out. I do have a set of elves that belong to my grandmother and when she was dividing up her decorations my brother was so jealous that I got the elves and he has been known once they're decorated, once they're out in my house and decorated. He has kidnapped one or two of the elves and kind of held them hostage throughout the holidays.

Mollie Hernandez:

But I'll get pictures of these elves which is also funny that he sends me pictures but my elves held up in like next to IHOP menus and stuff on the different adventures they get to go on because he has stolen them. So he took advantage of my blindness and stole some of my decorations. That did get them back. But yeah, again, it's all holiday fun and I love it. Just don't forget to include us in the fun.

Lani Jennings-Hall:

Thank you, ladies, again for joining today and thank you to our listeners for joining on this special holiday episode of Including you. The resources mentioned today, as well as some additional ones, will be available in the show notes. Thank you for listening and if you liked this episode, don't forget to leave a five star rating and a review. You can also show your support for the podcast on your podcast platform of choice. At Disability Rights Arkansas, we envision in Arkansas where people with disabilities will be able to share their experiences with the community and the community. And we also envision in Arkansas where people with disabilities are equal members in their communities and can dictate their lives through self-determination. And, as made clear in this podcast, we can't create that change without bringing self-advocates to the table. If you are interested in more information, please visit our website .

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