The festive season should be a time of togetherness and inclusivity. We share our favourite seasonal ideas to give you a fantastic Christmas.
The lights, sounds, fuss and festivities associated with Christmas can be challenging for some disabled people and an exuberant delight for others. In either case, Christmas is for all, so we’ve put together tips and advice to help you find activities that everyone can enjoy.
One of the simplest Christmas spectacles to enjoy is the switching on of the Christmas lights. Whether you live in the smallest village or town, or if you are close to a large city, there’s likely to be a switch-on near you.
These events do tend to get very busy and while you may not get too close to the ceremonial stage, the lights, of course, shine over everyone. Best advice then, is not to turn up too early (unless you need to consider parking) since it’s likely to be cold – besides, it’s better if it’s dark before you look at them.
Christmas is a season of generosity and that lends itself to shopping. This tends to split opinion, with dread and delight shared in equal measure.
Top tips include, knowing what you want to buy and from which shops. Plan your shopping circuit so that you get anything large or heavy near the end of it and perhaps make it a special day by booking a table at a restaurant near the shops, thereby treating yourself for a job well done.
Generally, shopping malls tend to have decent accessibility and facilities and maybe even good parking. If you do need to shop in person and not online, you might consider going at less busy times such as weekdays.
Santa can be found in a surprising number of places these days. Shopping malls, town squares and even garden centres. This means that you’ll probably have an accessible choice of venue near you.
Keep in mind that in these times, you may need to book in advance, though the upside might be that you won’t be queuing for so long.
Make sure that you have an idea of what any gift from Santa might be to avoid disappointment if it turns out to be inappropriate for your child – and have a substitute on standby – though it’s really Santa who’s the star of the show.
Christmas dinner always comes with pressure and expectation. Perhaps it’s time to re-write the rules to suit your energy levels and abilities. If you want to get a big family together, explain that each is encouraged to bring along part of the meal – a starter, desert, bottle of something and so on.
Alternatively, get them together outside of Christmas day for a buffet meal.
Everyone should be invited but this can be difficult, particularly if there is more than one person among you with a disability since not every home is a palace. Why not consider hiring an accessible holiday lodge? These roomy places are often designed for large groups of people and could be the ideal place to celebrate together.
If you are going to travel over the Christmas period you should make your arrangements sooner rather than later. If you are travelling by train, for example, it makes good sense to book assistance for your journey. Not only will this be practically useful to you but you’ll also have somebody to help secure your rights if the services are full – and have, for example, people already occupying priority seating without proper need.
Be realistic about what you can carry. Consider having any gifts delivered rather than taking them on public transport yourself.
If you are taking your own transport, consider the timing of your journey carefully. Leave more time than you need and weigh up leaving later or earlier with the possibility of having to sit in traffic for long periods.
Most importantly, keep flexible. If the weather becomes severe, consider changing your schedule and taking extra clothing and other necessities with you – or cancel. Safety must come first.
Go to a show
Theatres and concert halls all over the country will be keen to put on plays, concerts, ballet and of course pantomimes after such a long period when live audiences have been absent.
Check that the venue has the correct access and facilities to suit you before booking – including if there are any specially adapted performances to consider. These cater brilliantly to a diverse audience and can include sign language interpretation, subtitles, quiet performances and relaxed performances.
What to expect…
Due to circumstances caused by the ongoing pandemic, you might find that things are slightly different to how they were. Here’s a quick guide to help you prepare.
Check that the destination and all its facilities are open before you travel.
Be prepared to book your entry time in advance – as well as any equipment hire.
The site may be subject to strict one-way movement of visitors etc, to aid social distancing. Some parts may be temporarily closed.
Expect increased sanitation measures.
Be prepared to pay by contactless card.
Expect lots of changes – even at places you are familiar with. This can be a challenge to some people.
Christmas events can be found almost anywhere and many are accessible, at least to some degree. For instance, stately homes have started to put on ‘Christmas at the big house’ events whereby you can experience a little bit of what festivities would’ve been like in historical buildings, when they were in their Downton Abbeyesque pomp.
You’ll find similar events in outdoor locations such as botanic gardens, notably at Kew in London and at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
Due to their age and layout, not all venues are accessible to everyone, but they increasingly do make efforts to entertain a diverse audience.
You might not necessarily think that ice skating is an accessible activity but more and more of the temporary ice rinks that pop up in town squares will let wheelchair users on the ice. Wheelchairs don’t damage the surface as much as skates do and it’s far more difficult to take a tumble sat in a chair than sliding around on skates (and of course wheelchair users don’t need to borrow skates like everyone else).
It is a fairly new idea so it’s worth contacting the rink in advance to ask if they can accommodate wheelchair users.
General tips and advice…
Book it now
Expect tickets for events or timed slots to sell out fast. Book as soon as you can.
Keep it a surprise
To avoid disappointment because of postponement or cancellation (due perhaps, to Covid) you might consider keeping treats under wraps. Admittedly, some people may need to be gently coached to avoid over stimulation by the surprise.
Get tight on the detail. Poor accessibility is a party-pooper!
Know your audience
Consider any allergies, physical mobility or sensory challenges or stimuli that might be unsettling.
Christmas Elf Experience
Have you got what it takes to join Team Santa? Come and find out in a brand new Christmas Elf Experience at Clayton West Station in West Yorkshire.
This enchanting 45-minute adventure show will see new elf recruits (young and old) learning just what it takes to be a cheeky Christmas elf.
Led by only the very cheekiest of Santa’s elves, you’ll learn how to walk, talk and act like an elf; there’ll be singalongs, perhaps a little bit of mayhem, definitely some sparkle and maybe even a few Christmassy craft activities to complete.
Train rides and visit to Santa not included.
You shall go to the panto!
Pantomime returns to Harrow Arts Centre this Christmas and after a year off it promises to be their biggest, most spectacular yet as they present Cinderella!
As a fully accessible venue, HAC offer a special relaxed performance on Thursday 16 December, 1:30pm. This relaxed performance is specifically designed to be an open and welcoming environment for audience members who may enjoy, or benefit from, a more relaxed performance style. This includes a live BLS interpreter, flexible seating, house lights, no flash or strobe lighting and the freedom to leave and re-enter the theatre at any time.
Concession tickets are £15 and all carers go free. Find out more and book tickets via: www.harrowarts.com or call the box office on tel: 0203 773 7161
Humbugs at The Old Vic
The Old Vic hosts a number of accessible performances of A Christmas Carol starring Stephen Mangan, including a relaxed performance which will be audio described and captioned (1pm, Saturday 11 Dec).
Since 2018 The Old Vic has been transforming the theatre with works including the creation of a new accessible entrance from Waterloo Road allowing wheelchair access to The Old Vic foyer for the very first time in its 200 year history. Furthermore, access work to the box
office and a new basement café and bar, which includes a lowered bar area, and facilities has also been completed – as well as the installation of up to 10 wheelchair spaces across the stalls in a variety of positions, including the ability to have two wheelchair spaces side by side.
The theatre offers free Access
Membership enabling members to book tickets to suit their needs directly online (including wheelchair spaces) and pick the best seats in the house to suit their requirements, for example, front row or aisle seats or the best seats to view the captioned units or hear the audio description.
The Octagon Theatre, Bolton will be flying audiences to Neverland in their unmissable festive family production of Peter Pan from Friday 26 November 2021 – Sunday 9 January 2022.
Get set for an awfully big adventure as Peter, Wendy and the Lost Boys take on the dastardly Captain Hook in this musical adaptation of J.M Barrie’s classic tale – bursting with music, mischief and magic.
The newly refurbished Octagon is more accessible than ever before and complete with a Changing Places toilet, one of only a handful in the town. The venue also has a programme of access performances for the upcoming festive period:
- Captioned – Friday 10 December
- Audio Described – Friday 17 December
- BSL – Tuesday 21 December
- Dementia Friendly – Wednesday 5 January
- Relaxed – Thursday 6 January
Tickets start from £15 and are selling fast! Book at:
www.octagonbolton.co.uk by calling the box office on tel: 01204 520661 or email:
The Magician’s Elephant
This winter, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), producers of the multi-award-winning Matilda The Musical, present their new musical, The Magician’s Elephant, adapted from Kate DiCamillo’s prize-winning novel.
“Magic is always impossible. That’s what makes it magic”
This brand new musical for all the family reminds us all that even the impossible can become possible when we open our eyes and hearts to those around us.
For this production, the RSC will be offering audio described, captioned, relaxed and chilled performances, as well as performances with integrated BSL. In addition to these, they will be offering socially distanced performances each Tuesday. Concession rates and carer tickets are available for all performances. Half price tickets are available for up to four family members under the age of 18 attending with every full priced paying adult (Monday-Friday only). For more information, visit:
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: 01789 331275.
Hook Your Tickets Now!
Bridlington Spa presents singing sensation, Michael Auger from Britain’s Got Talent winners, Collabro, starring in the Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan.
This year’s production promises to be more spectacular than ever featuring all of the traditional elements of pantomime combined with dazzling scenery and costumes, bucket-loads of laughter and awe-inspiring flying, guaranteed to entertain all the family.
The accessible venue has lifts to every floor, hearing loops as well as signed and relaxed performances available on certain shows.
14 December – 3 January
Relaxed performance 6pm, 28 December
Signed performance 2pm, 30 December
Box Office, tel: 01262 678258