December 10th was the annual celebration of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. While every day is a good day to celebrate and protect human rights, the holiday season has special opportunities for us as supporters of people with disabilities.

People celebrate the season in various ways during the month of December, from lighting a Hanukkah menorah, to watching the Solstice sunrise, or attending midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Gatherings of family and friends, observing religious traditions, and making and eating special foods all figure prominently in the holiday season. Each of these reminds of us the rights of the people we serve.

Freedom of religion is a human right outlined in the Declaration. Do you know the religious preferences of the person(s) you support? This season is a good occasion for a conversation about what rituals and celebrations they wish to attend or practice. Or perhaps none of these rituals are their preference, and that is important to recognize as well. Asking questions and listening carefully to the answers helps guide our work to support the religious or spiritual practices of the people we serve.

The right to associate freely with others is also an important right, laid out both in the Declaration and the federal rules guiding home and community-based settings. At this special time of year, it’s a great time to ask individuals whether and who they would like to invite to their home for a visit or gathering. Maybe a holiday party with their housemates is what they’d love, or maybe having their siblings or friends over for dinner would be their idea of a good time.

The third thing that often comes up at this time of year is food. Access to food at any time is a protected right for the people we serve. With all the holiday gatherings, it can be tempting to try to limit what people are eating, out of a desire to protect their health. Just remember that many of us throw caution to the wind when faced with platters of homemade cookies and buffet tables of our favorite dishes. People with disabilities have the same rights to indulge and enjoy as anyone else. If you work with someone for whom this is a concern, you supervisor and clinical staff can help you learn how to provide support without violating anyone’s rights.

May all of us enjoy a happy, healthy December and all the best in the new year!

Three Ways to Recognize Human Rights This Winter