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Wheelchair Etiquette and Disability Awareness

Author: Robin Kettle

Published: 2009-02-01 - (Updated: 2020-02-06)


Explains the rules of etiquette when talking with a person in a wheelchair and people using guide dogs.

Key Points:

Main Digest

Always ask the person using the wheelchair if he or she would like assistance BEFORE you help. It may not be needed or wanted. They might not always need help. Wheelchairs give the person in them a sense of mobility and allow them to take part activities that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. This gives the person a sense of individualism. Sometimes they might not need help.

Remember to keep a respectful demeanor since it may seem condescending to inadvertently touch or pat the individual.

Make sure not to prevent anyone from asking questions about the wheelchair. You shouldn't feel embarrassed, a wheelchair is a device of the person using it and there is no reason to pretend as if it doesn't exist.

When meeting someone who uses mobility equipment for the first time, do offer to shake their hand, even if it seems they may have reduced limb movement. This is to keep social norms and also serves to acknowledge them as a person, not as their disability.

If you're unsure of something, just ask the person. This includes offers of assistance with any task, from moving to eating or drinking. It will save both you and them an awkward moment, if you clarify any help they may need, before rushing in guns blazing to assist them. Give them the option to refuse your assistance and don't take offence.

Clip-art image of a male and female each in a wheelchair. Another woman is using crutches. Each person has a care provider close by.
Clip-art image of a male and female each in a wheelchair. Another woman is using crutches. Each person has a care provider close by.

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.

Teaching Children About Wheelchair User Etiquette

Talk to your children about disabled people. Remember to tell them what a wheelchair is and why a person is in it. Children will stare regardless, but most people in wheelchairs are probably used to it. Kids simply do not know any better and are mostly likely just curious. It is the parents’ job to educate their children and help to slowly close the gap of information that currently exists.

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