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Wheelchair Etiquette - Disability Awareness

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-02-01 (Revised/Updated 2015-01-02) - Explains the rules of etiquette when talking with a person in a wheelchair and people using guide dogs. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Robin Kettle at -.

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Quote: "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."

Always ask the person using the wheelchair if he or she would like assistance BEFORE you help. It may not be needed or wanted.

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.

Another rule of etiquette is the act of shaking hands, even if their limbs are limited in use. Focus on the person, not on his or her disability.

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.
  • 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!
  • 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.

Related Information:

  1. When You Meet a Blind Person - Robin Kettle - (Feb 08, 2009)
    https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/awareness/meeting-blind.php
  2. Disability Etiquette and Awareness - Sally Rider - (May 06, 2010)
    https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/awareness/etiquette.php
  3. Explaining Disability to Children - Thomas C. Weiss - (Apr 28, 2009)
    https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/children/explaining-disability-children.php


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