Wheelchair Wrongs

In Everyone has one, Features, Opinion by Laura Stinson

Being in a wheelchair is not easy. There are obstacles to contend with, among them, other people who do not understand what it means to be disabled. Those people who think that is all right to touch or handle a chair without the permission of the person in it, for example. The following is a list of suggestions for those who might need to brush up on their “wheelchair etiquette.”

A wheelchair is not a wall to lean against or a hand railing on which to balance. Nor is it a footrest or any other piece of furniture meant to make you feel more comfortable. The person riding in the wheelchair can feel when the chair is touched and it does make her uncomfortable. If you would not want someone
leaning on your legs, please do not lean on someone’s wheelchair.

Do not assume that it is okay to come up behind a person and tip their wheelchair back or to push their chair without their knowledge. This can be a very frightening experience because it takes control of the chair away from that person and a lack of control can be extremely discomforting. It may be fun for you, but it is not so for that person. Again, if you wouldn’t want someone whipping your legs out from under you, do not haphazardly grab the back of a wheelchair.

If you offer assistance to someone in a wheelchair and they decline your offer, do not press the issue. Disabled citizens are just as independent as anyone else and will often accept help if they feel it is necessary.

Neither the wheelchair nor the person in it are toys. Please don’t treat them as such. Don’t request to ride in someone’s wheelchair. The chair is not there for your enjoyment. Also, if you are pushing someone in a wheelchair, do so responsibly. You would not drive your car like a maniac, don’t drive a wheelchair like one.

People in wheelchairs have no desire to perform tricks. Do not ask them to do things like pop wheelies or spin donuts.

If you are trying to get by a person in a wheelchair and he moves to get out of your way, do not say that he is fine or that he is not in the way. It can make him feel like you do not consider him your equal. He is only trying to be considerate. Do the same and say, “Thank you.”

Remember that if a person is in a wheelchair, her scenery is usually your posterior. Try to avoid putting in right in her face.

If you encounter a person in a wheelchair with a group of people, do not address your questions pertaining to that person to another member of the group.

Just because a person is in a wheelchair does not mean they cannot function intelligently. If it is all right to address questions to another person, you will know it.

Think before you speak. Questions such as, “Isn’t it fun being in a wheelchair?” and statements like, “You’re lucky to not have to walk up stairs,” are considered insensitive and ignorant.
People in wheelchairs are not pack mules. Just because they are sitting down doesn’t mean they want to hold everyone else’s personal items.

In the end, it’s all about respect. Respecting someone’s personal space and right to privacy as well as his or her right to feel like a competent adult. Respect is something that we all desire and that we should all dispense to one another equally.