Wheelchair Etiquette: 8 Things to Keep in Mind
When Interacting with People with Mobility Impairments
People use wheelchairs for different reasons. Some people who use wheelchairs can and do walk or stand - often with the use of a cane, braces, crutches or a walker. Using a wheelchair some of the time may be a means of conserving energy or getting about more quickly. It does not mean that the person is "faking" a disability.
When interacting with people with a mobility impairment, keep these things in mind:
- Never patronize people in wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder. Speak to them in a normal tone of voice. Baby talk is inappropriate.
- If you want to offer help, do so in a respectful way. Say, "Is there something I can do to be helpful?" rather than, "I better help you with that. You'll never be able to it yourself."
- After you've asked the person who uses the wheelchair if he/she wants some help, wait for the answer. Don't assume your assistance is wanted or needed. For example: Ask a wheelchair user if he/she wants to be pushed BEFORE doing so. If your offer is refused, understand that some people prefer to do things independently.
- Never move mobility devices like canes, crutches, walkers or wheelchairs unless you are specifically asked to do so. Three-wheeled scooters also are considered wheelchairs. If a person transfers out of a wheelchair and asks you to move it, don’t move it out of the person’s reach.
- Sit, squat or kneel when you're talking with a person who uses a wheelchair, otherwise the wheelchair user has to constantly look up. If you can't sit down, remember the taller you are the further away you should stand.
- Do not lean against or hang on someone's wheelchair. Keep in mind that people who use wheelchairs treat their chair as an extension of their bodies.
- You should speak directly to persons using the mobility devices and not to their friends or companions, but feel free to include any companions in the conversation.
- When giving directions, consider distance, weather conditions and surfaces such as stairs, curbs or inclines that may pose challenges.
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