Wheelchair Etiquette and Disability Awareness
Published 2009/02/01 - (11 years ago). Last updated 2020/02/06 - (2 weeks ago).
Author: Robin Kettle
Outline: Explains the rules of etiquette when talking with a person in a wheelchair and people using guide dogs. The first rule of etiquette when interacting with people in wheelchairs, or power chairs, is to remember that one should not focus on their disability. Instead, focus on the person. 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.
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.
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.
- Don't pet guide dogs or other service animals as they are working animals.
- 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.
- 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 disrespect a wheelchair user by speaking to the caregiver instead of them - especially not about them.
- Don't make assumptions about why a person is using a wheelchair. Many, if not most, wheelchair users are not paralyzed and can get up if they need to.
- Avoid patting a person on the head or touching his/her wheelchair, scooter or cane. People with disabilities consider their equipment part of their personal space.
- If you have children, they will stare, it's their nature. Talk to the child about disabled people, and help them to understand why people use wheelchairs. 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.
- Bathroom breaks matter. If you plan a gathering or meeting and observe someone in a wheelchair, ensure the person knows and has access to a bathroom.
- Don't hang or lean on a person's wheelchair because it is part of that person's personal body space.
- Speak directly to the person in the wheelchair, not to someone nearby as if the person in the wheelchair did not exist.
- If conversation lasts more than a few minutes, consider sitting down or kneeling to get yourself on the same level.
- Don't belittle or patronize the person by patting them on the head.
- Give clear directions, including distance, weather conditions and physical obstacles that may hinder the person's travel.
- When a person using a wheelchair "transfers" out of the wheelchair to a chair, toilet, car or bed , do not move the wheelchair out of reaching distance.
- Be aware of the person's capabilities. Some users can walk with aid and use wheelchairs to save energy and move quickly.
- It is ok to use terms like "running along" when speaking to a person who uses a wheelchair. The person is likely to express things the same way.
- Don't discourage children from asking questions about the wheelchair.
- Don't assume that using a wheelchair is in itself a tragedy. It is a means of freedom that allows the person to move about independently.
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.
- 1 - Awareness Ribbons Chart: Color and Meaning of Awareness Ribbon Causes | Disabled World (2015/03/09)
- 2 - Awareness Dates: Days - Weeks - Months | Disabled World (2011/04/30)
- 3 - Teaching Children Disability Etiquette and Manners | Kimberly Carnevale (2009/01/28)
- 4 - Wheelchair Etiquette and Disability Awareness | Robin Kettle (2009/02/01)
- 5 - Disability Etiquette and Awareness Information | Disabled World (2010/05/06)