Interacting with a wheelchair user – Wheelchair Etiquette

Say, you meet a person using a wheelchair, this is your first time and you are confused. You do not want to make him uncomfortable or hurt him in any way, also you do not want to feel awkward yourself. Ok read on,

Proceed as if you meet an able bodied person. The focus should be the person and not his wheelchair or his disability. Treat him as a independent, responsible individual. Only their legs or arms dont work, their brain and other stuffs should be in a better shape than yours :)

Respect the person’s space. A wheelchair is a very important equipment for its user. Its like a part of his body space. So do not unnecessarily touch the wheelchair. Hanging or leaning on the chair is similar to hanging or leaning on a person sitting in any chair. It is often fine if you are close friends, but inappropriate if you are strangers. NEVER rest your foot on their wheelchair.

Do not stare! A wheelchair user mostly has a pot belly[due to paralysis of abdominal muscles] and thin legs, these are not places of interest. Especially dont stare when he is doing ‘transfers’ [from car to wheelchair etc], as he can notice it, feel uncomfortable and lose balance.

A wheelchair user mostly can talk :) . Talk to the person using the wheelchair, not to his friend/carer/parent, on matters concerning to him. And make sure the talking is least about his disability and how he handles it.

Do not utter words like “your are great/brave”, “you are an inspiration”, “you will be rewarded” etc. A wheelchair user is just another dumbass like you. Ok agreed! not as much as you.

Do not jump to help. Always ask the person BEFORE you help, but never insist. It may not be needed or wanted. If he needs help, he will accept your offer and tell you exactly what will be helpful.

Don’t demean or patronize the person by patting or caressing them on the head or back. Strict no no!

Don’t be sensitive about using words like “walking”, “running”, “evening walk” etc. These words are part of everyday language.

Do not suggest treatments, doctors, therapists, healers, herbal medicines, cures etc etc…

Do not underestimate his capabilities. Most of them are capable of taking care of themselves. A wheelchair user is 100% capable of taking decisions for him. Your help is not needed here!

Do not offer your prayers and speak about stories of miraculous healings. If you wanna pray, go home, shut the door and do.

Do not assume that you know the best to help a wheelchair user. Do not advice or give tips to them on how to handle their daily issues or wheelchair. They have a much better idea than you.

Dont ask him to try harder so that he can walk. Can you correct your eye sight[eg myopia] by trying to look harder?

Don’t be one of those people who makes life difficult for wheelchair users, by putting your stuffs [like shoes, bag etc] on the way of the wheelchair user.

Never move the wheelchair out of reaching distance of its user when he is not using it.

If you happen to push a wheelchair; this is not an instance to show off your physical strength and speed. By doing so you will most probably injure yourself, the user and damage his wheelchair. Be slow and extremely slow and be careful not to bump against stones and other obstructions on the way. Inform the user if you are going to lift or make a sharp turn.

When lifting a wheelchair do not rush. Make sure you are holding on to the main frame and not on places like push rims, foot rests, arm rests or even cushions, these are removable and might break off.

Don’t classify a wheelchair user as ‘sick’. There is no disease or contagious stuffs here. Try to see them similar to people wearing glasses.

The wheelchair is not a symbol of tragedy, suffering or pity. It is a means of freedom that allows the person to move about independently and lead a fuller life. A wheelchair user is well comfortable with it. Do not assume that he is sad, suffering and his life is in waters.

Source: Most of these are from internet and the rest by me. But I’ve experienced all the above multiple times.

2 thoughts on “Interacting with a wheelchair user – Wheelchair Etiquette

  1. tony

    Its nice that you liked it.
    you can guess who is the person that forced me to write the points about shoe bags etc.. Haha :>

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