Keep these five reminders in the back of your mind when you interact with a wheelchair user to show maximum respect:
- Talk to, not above: Even if they’re with an able-bodied friend or caretaker, speak directly to the wheelchair user, not just to their peers. Speaking over their head, skirting around eye contact, or ignoring them completely and addressing someone else shows a lack of focus and respect.
- Get on their level: If you’re chatting with a wheelchair user, pull up a chair next to them or squat down to eye level. This reduces neck strain as they don’t have to crank their heads upwards to maintain eye contact. It also shifts the power dynamic of the conversation from a lecture to a level playing field.
- Don’t touch their chair: For a wheelchair user, their chair is an extension of their body and should be treated as such. Propping your foot on the wheels, or resting your hand on the back is an invasion of personal space, and the intrusion may come across as condescending. Just as it’d be awkward for a new acquaintance to casually lean an elbow on you while you talked, keep your hands to yourself and off the chair until you’re expressly allowed to do otherwise.
- Refrain from assisting: Unless asked, never move a wheelchair user while they’re in it. Not only is it patronizing, but it can be dangerous for those with restricted balance who fall out of their chairs easily if not given forewarning. Before offering assistance, ask.
- Hold your tongue: You wouldn’t appreciate a new acquaintance opening conversation by asking probing questions about your personal life. Similarly, a blunt and immediate, “So what happened to you?” directed to a wheelchair user is jarring and downright rude. Establish rapport first and foremost, and let the conversation direct itself down that road.
When in doubt, just remember the golden rule, and treat others the way you would like to be treated! If you or a loved one do use a wheelchair, William Bros. can help make life easier. We carry a number of wheelchairs and wheelchair accessories.