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Several Things to Be Grateful for This Thanksgiving Season

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By Kate Harveston

For many of us, the biggest physical challenge during the holiday season is shambling off to the couch to rest our too-full stomachs and fork hands. Sleeping off the turkey and preparing for the dessert course is hard work!

However, many people must live with much more significant physical setbacks. Many of these issues get thrown into harsh focus during the holidays. Here’s a look at a few able-bodied privileges to be thankful for this year.

photo by Elena Nikitina

1. Being Able to Run Around the Kitchen

When we return to our family homes for the holidays, we look forward to the flurry of activity as we toil over a home-cooked meal. There are dishes to stir, giblets to remove and potatoes to peel and mash. Do you plan to pull your weight this Thanksgiving season?

Whether the family elders are doing the cooking or they’ve passed the baton to the next generation, cooking elaborate meals at home is a true able-bodied privilege. There’s a reason Meals on Wheels exists: Not everybody can operate even their own kitchen appliances confidently.

A survey by the National Restaurant Association says nine percent of U.S. consumers will eat their entire Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant. Of people preparing meals at home, nine percent will buy some pre-made sides and four percent will buy an entire pre-made meal. This breakdown shows a dramatic rise over just a few years ago. If there’s a time to celebrate the year’s bounty and our good health by putting in some effort in the kitchen, Thanksgiving is surely it.

2. Sitting on the Floor to Gather ‘Round the TV

Gathering with loved ones for a movie marathon, to watch your favorite team play catch or just to enjoy a roaring fire is a Thanksgiving tradition many wouldn’t give up for anything. And if you’re like a lot of households, the size of your gathering might exceed the amount of available seating.

Among other things, doctors use patients’ ability to stand up from chairs and the floor to judge a person’s fitness and even their likely longevity. Sitting on the floor with the kids or grandkids and being able to rise quickly (to check on that pumpkin pie in the oven, maybe) is a privilege most of us don’t know to appreciate until disability or old age takes it from us.

Dog with red hair wrapped in a blanket laying on a bed

3. Driving to the Store or to See Loved Ones

Moving about in your own home is one thing; what happens when we need to make a quick trip to the store for a missing ingredient or a household staple? For the able-bodied community, it’s as easy as jumping in a car and driving down the road.

Those of us in the able-bodied community probably don’t think twice about traveling to see our family during the holidays either. Many people start to incur extra expenses during travel as they age, and travel can be downright impossible if you’re disabled. If you still have the gift of unencumbered mobility, stay thankful and mindful of it this holiday season.

4. Not Being an Object of Pity or Worry

Even well-intentioned relatives can come across as patronizing and counterproductive if they don’t know how to interact with loved ones who have disabilities. Especially around the holidays, individuals with disabilities often find themselves surrounded by loved ones who may not fully understand the nature of their disability, how able they still are or how they want to be treated.

Most people don’t want to feel like an object of pity, whether or not their disabilities put dramatic limits on their movement or cognition. And nobody wants to feel as though the rest of their family is walking on eggshells around them or spending time worrying about them.

Wondering about how others see and treat you based on the capabilities of your body or mind is a special kind of frustration that the able-bodied can’t always understand. That’s why the D.C. Office of Disability Rights has a helpful video to help the able-bodied majority learn etiquette and respectful communication. It might be especially helpful around the holidays, with households full of people we don’t see often and who might have different needs than the rest of us.

5. Having Enough Money for Gifts

The Thanksgiving and larger holiday seasons are times when many people enjoy traveling and lavishing gifts on friends and family members. But for too many of us, health care and prescription expenses can add up and seriously impact our ability to get into the spirit of the season.

Exchanging “stuff” isn’t what this time of year is about, of course. But entertaining houseguests, making people comfortable and spending money on all the seasonal incidentals is an expense disabled individuals may have difficulty justifying if their other bills are already piling up.

Many disabled individuals struggle with job security as well. For example, you might be surprised to learn that those with significant hearing loss earn substantially less money in a year than those without. Additionally, in the United States, the number of people who are confident that they can afford their health care expenses is in an absolute freefall. It’s a preoccupying source of dread that the able-bodied community can’t appreciate until their own body starts to turn on them.

Give Thanks for Good Health and Capable Bodies

We all know that this is a dreadfully incomplete list, but hopefully it’s a good reminder of some of the things you can be thankful for this year. Being able-bodied isn’t a choice any more than being disabled is a choice, but you can make it a point to spend your Thanksgiving in a true spirit of gratitude. Devote some time to learning what a complete and inclusive health care system would look like if we gave it a chance. None of us knows when fate might conspire to take our sight, our mobility, our hearing or our very freedom.

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