Wheelchair Etiquette

Have you ever known anyone in a wheelchair? Over the last few years I have known a couple of individuals at our church who uses one regularly. We have had a few visitors who have attended at times and I have found it can be a little awkward for those who are not wheelchair bound to know how to act, self-included.
Having a child with a mental disability has its own set of issues. Sometimes people talk loud to my daughter thinking if they can just speak up, she will somehow understand what they are saying. Some people talk to me rather than to her, as if she cannot answer for herself. Some people avoid us altogether.
Everyone with a disability is different; just like we are all different. Some have physical, mental or emotional issues, and some have a combination of any or all of them.
With the two people at our church, I have made some observations and have tried to learn the proper etiquette. I will be including an article I found that will hopefully help you the next time you meet someone in a wheelchair.
First, always ask if they would like some help. They may be waiting for someone else or they may be waiting for the traffic to clear.
Never, ever pat someone in a wheelchair on the head, not even a little child! It is demeaning.
If your conversation will last more than a few minutes, sit in a chair or kneel down on their level.
People in wheelchairs do not always have a mental disability. Do not assume they cannot talk or hear or understand what you are saying. One of our wheelchair bound individuals at church is very soft spoken and doesn’t have the strength to project. Your best bet is to get on their level somehow and really listen, they often have a lot to offer, conversation wise

Offer to shake their hand and speak directly to them, even if they appear they are incapable. It is a nice gesture and you never know when they will often speak right back to you. Try not to have a conversation about them over their head with the person assisting them. Talk directly to them.
These are just a few things I have learned. Here is a list of helpful wheelchair etiquette that might open your eyes on how to best proceed when you find yourself in an awkward situation of not knowing what to do.
I found this article on the internet and just wanted to post it to help others out. All the information and credit is at the bottom of the article. Enjoy!


Wheelchair Etiquette…
based on Ric Garren in Challenge Magazine
The following suggestions enable better communication with people who use wheelchairs:

The key concept? Focus on the person, not on his or her disability.
It is appropriate to shake hands with a person who has a disability, even if they have limited use of their hands or wear an artificial limb.
Always ask the person who uses a wheelchair if he or she would like assistance before you jump in to help. Your help may not be needed or wanted.
Don’t hang or lean on a person’s wheelchair. A wheelchair is part of his or her own personal or body space, so don’t lean on it, rock it, etc.
Speak directly to the person who uses the wheelchair, not to someone who is nearby as if the wheelchair user did not exist.
If your conversation lasts more than a few minutes, consider sitting down, etc. to get yourself on the same eye-level as the person who uses the wheelchair. It will keep both of you from getting a stiff neck!
Don’t demean or patronize the person who uses a wheelchair by patting him or her on the head.
When giving directions, think about things like travel distance, location of curbcuts and ramps, weather conditions and physical obstacles that may hinder their travel.
Don’t discourage children from asking questions of a person who uses a wheelchair about their wheelchair. Open communication helps overcome fearful or misleading attitudes.
When a person who uses a wheelchair “transfers” out of the wheelchair to a chair, pew, car, toilet or bed, do not move the wheelchair out of reach. If you think it would be best to move it for some reason ask the person who uses the wheelchair about the best option for them.
It is OK to use expressions like “running along” or “let’s go for a walk” when speaking to person who uses a wheelchair. It is likely they express the idea of moving along in exactly the same way.
People who use wheelchairs have varying capabilities. Some person who use wheelchairs can walk with aid or for short distances. They use wheelchairs because they help them to conserve energy and to move about with greater efficiency.
Don’t classify or think of people who use wheelchairs as “sick.” Wheelchairs are used to help people adapt to or compensate for the mobility impairments that result from many non-contagious impairments. Some of these are, for example, spinal cord injury, stroke, amputation, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, post-polio, heart disease, etc.
Check your assumptions! Don’t assume that using a wheelchair is a tragedy. Wheelchairs when they are self fitted and well-chosen are actually a means of freedom that allows the user to move about independently and fully engage in life.
Don’t pet guide dogs or other service animals…they are working.
For more on this topic go to: Frequently Asked Questions about Wheelchairs and the people who use them.
Last Updated: 3-2-2006
Return to: WheelchairNet Home Page
Please let us know if you find a link that doesn’t work or have an idea about something to include!
Contact information:
Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology • Telephone: 412.624.6279
© Copyright 2006 University of Pittsburgh. All rights reserved.
No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WheelchairNet and the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology.

Please note: This information is provided as archival information from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Wheeled Mobility from 1993 to 2002.

More helpful information can be found here.

Blessings from Grace and Fortitude!

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