From Secret Entrances to Plywood Ramps: Navigating Your Social Life With a Disability

Your twenties are supposed to be the time where you branch out, meet new people, and experience new things for the first time.  If you’re in college, “welcome week” brings about many activities, and every weekend there’s something going on.  If you are not in school, you and your friends are all trying to balance the various newfound responsibilities that adulthood brings, along with fun and freedom.  No matter where we are at, one thing I’ve learned is that we all need each other.

Having a disability on top of the ever-changing, fast-paced lifestyles of young adults can often pose a problem.  What do I do if that house party is on the third floor without an elevator?  What do I do when there’s a spontaneous road trip and I haven’t had time to plan?  What can I do if my friends are going out without me because of inaccessibility?  I understand that it’s not fair that we even need to ask these questions, and I don’t have all of the answers, but here’s what I’ve found helps me.


Talk to your friends.

Oftentimes, your friends are more than willing to figure out how to include you.  With more brainpower, there’s more opportunity for a solution.  You don’t need to be alone in your stress or disappointment over disability barriers.  The odds are, your friends, or your soon-to-be friends want you there, and are willing to make it work! I have had friends carry me up flights of stairs or into swimming pools simply because I asked–-I just needed to let them know that I wanted in.

Be creative.

Don’t give up at the bottom of the stairs.  When something isn’t accessible, it can be easy to just give in, but sometimes you need to keep asking questions and trying to find an alternative.  On the days when I’m feeling adventurous about getting in or going somewhere, I’ve used some crazy tactics.  I’ve built ramps out of scraps of wood and cardboard.  I’ve walked or taken the bus across town because an accessible vehicle wasn’t available.  There have been so many times I thought a building was inaccessible, but when I asked, they actually had a secret back-door entrance that was accessible.  .  You would be surprised how many ways there are to make a place accessible when you think outside the box.

Be flexible.

There are times where things just don’t work out.  There will be times when, unfortunately, an event or venue just isn’t accessible.  Sometimes my friends go to bars that would be such a pain to get me into, that I just offer to meet up with them later.  I often feel disappointment, but ultimately, I know we can do something together at a different time with much less stress for me.  This doesn’t mean my friends don’t care, or that I don’t want to go out with them–sometimes I’d just rather take the easy route. More often than you’d think, I’m happy to binge-watch Netflix until my friends get back, (and let’s be real, who’s really winning here?)


Making new friends and keeping up with social circles is hard, disability or not. Without our structured play-groups like we had all throughout grade school, we as adults are often clueless to befriending new people and being vulnerable. I think we all feel left out sometimes, but when your friends are studying abroad and going out without you, it can be that much harder. This does not mean that the things you can do aren’t valid, and that you can’t get out there and conquer the world. It’s worth it to put in the effort, even if our efforts are different than those around us. We’re all just doing our best to navigate these waters, but it is so worth the trip.

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