7 Social Etiquette Tips for Someone Interacting with an Individual in a Wheelchair

Most of the time, when someone makes a wheelchair etiquette mistake, it’s simply because they don’t know better. By educating those around you, you’re helping spread inclusivity and kindness. Thanks for reading and sharing this with your community! 

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Don’t bend down to speak to them.

You know, like you would a child? If the conversation is brief, it’s fine to stay standing. The individual in the wheelchair is used to having to look up. However, if the conversation is stretching on, find a place to sit so that you’re eye level without squatting down. Beyond it being uncomfortable for them to look up for a long period of time, they will also enjoy the conversation more if they know that you are also comfortable. 

Don’t ask to sit in/use their chair.

This isn’t Adventure Land, and their wheelchair is not a ride or attraction. A person’s wheelchair is a very personal thing. It is disrespectful to treat a tool that they need and depend on like it’s a toy.

Do not touch.

Think of their wheelchair as an extension of their body and treat it as such. You wouldn’t grab someone and physically move them. Same goes for a wheelchair. Always get consent before you touch them or their wheelchair. 

Speak directly to the wheelchair user.

Don’t look to the person who is with them to answer questions that you could ask the individual themself. Assuming that they can’t answer you or pretending like they aren’t there are both very rude things to do. Inclusion is actually very simple; make eye contact, be patient, and engage. 

Don’t make assumptions about them.

Don’t assume anything about their capabilities or how their handicaps came to be. Neither of those things are helpful. No one likes being underestimated, and making assumptions can lead to that pretty quickly. Just observe, ask questions, and learn.

Don’t comment on the wheelchair.

Odds are they’re pretty sick of the same comments and questions about their wheelchair. It’s not necessary to bring it up when there are so many other things you could be talking about. Aside from being an unnecessary topic of discussion, it could actually make the individual uncomfortable or self conscious.  

Don’t use their stuff.

Meaning, don’t park in their spots and use their restrooms. It’s hard enough to get around and find accommodating facilities without them being occupied by people who don’t need them.

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