Living with a Disability During the Holiday Season


Written by Mackenzie Saunders:

The holiday season always gives me the chance to reflect on life since my injury. In 2009, I spent the entire holiday season in inpatient rehabilitation after I was paralyzed from the waist down in a soccer accident. And now, exactly 10 years later, I am lucky enough to spend Christmas in my own home, in my own community, with the people I love most.

Spending Christmas in inpatient rehabilitation was hard. Although the rehab staff does their best to cheer up their patients (I probably received at least two dozen stuffed animals on Christmas Day in 2009), there’s just something sad about spending the holiday season in a hospital, isolated from your community. My immediate family spent most of their days with me in rehab during the holiday season, but I was still unable to see most of my extended family, along with my friends from school. Being away from my community took an emotional toll on me during a season that is supposed to be filled with love, family, and happiness.

I am thankful for the experiences that I had in 2009 because they have helped me realize the importance of long-term care and public resources for people with disabilities. Because of the supports I have received since then—such as physical therapy, daily medications, and occupational therapy—I am now able to live amongst my peers in a community I love. This holiday season, I am grateful for the resources that allow people with disabilities to live safely in their own community.

For decades, most people with significant disabilities in America were permanently institutionalized, meaning they were unable to live in their community with their non-disabled peers. This started to change in the 1960s through the civil rights movement, where people with disabilities had the chance to publicly express their frustration with the lack of community housing opportunities. People with disabilities were often forced to live in hospitals, isolated from the outside world, simply to receive the healthcare they needed to live. Sadly, while things have gotten better over the past few decades, a lack of accessible housing and long-term supports is still a huge issue today.

People with significant disabilities often require care workers, home modifications, and other supports in order to live safely outside the hospital and within their community. Unfortunately, these resources are difficult to obtain without unlimited funds. These supports are incredibly expensive, which means a lot of people with disabilities are forced to live in hospitals and nursing homes just so they can live safe, healthy lives.

As someone who has spent some time living in a hospital, and as someone who is now lucky enough to live amongst my family and peers, I know how important it is to allow people with disabilities the opportunity to live in their community. Living in your community brings you happiness, a sense of belonging, and an overall better quality of life. People with disabilities deserve the chance to belong, to involve themselves in their community, and to live life to the fullest.

This holiday season, I want to give thanks to all of the long-term supports and care that are available to people with disabilities across the nation. I also want to acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to be done. We have made so much progress in the past several decades, and I am so excited to see the progress we make in the years to come.

I’m so grateful to spend the holiday season in my home, in my community, with my family and friends. I can only hope that someday, everyone with disabilities can live where they want, with the people they love.