Wheelchair Etiquette for Non-Wheelchair Users

Sometimes we find it difficult to imagine what life might be like for people without the same physical advantages that we have. Friends, family members, coworkers, or even strangers we meet in our travels who are wheelchair users prefer you to be comfortable around them. Even though you may not fully understand what life is like for them. 

To achieve and maintain this mutual comfortability, there is general wheelchair etiquette you should follow:

  1. Don’t make assumptions. Just because someone is in a wheelchair, that doesn’t mean they are paralyzed or have fully lost the ability to walk. Sometimes people need to use wheelchairs when recovering from surgery, accidents, or heart conditions. Because of this, it’s best to avoid expressing surprise or questioning the disability when you see someone in a wheelchair standing up to reach something or complete a task.
  2. Greet them as you would a person not in a wheelchair. Hold out your hand for a handshake when in a professional setting or when meeting someone new who is in a wheelchair. When greeting those who are closer to you on a personal level, embrace them in a way that is most comfortable for them.
  3. Use natural words and phrases. Saying things like “Let’s take a walk” or “I’ve got to be running along” are commonly used and will be interpreted appropriately by the wheelchair user. They know you don’t mean the comment literally and prefer you to converse with them as you would anyone else.
  4. Don’t touch their wheelchair unless they request it. Wheelchairs come in all shapes and sizes and can have many different controls. As a non-wheelchair user, you most likely don’t know exactly how the chair operates, so touching it may create problems or reduce comfortability for the user. If for any reason you need to move or touch the chair, ask permission from the user first.
  5. Be respectful. This can mean anything from leaving the handicapped stall in the bathroom open even when there is not a wheelchair-bound person in sight, to waiting for the next elevator in order to avoid crowding a wheelchair user who gets on before you. In addition, always leave handicapped parking spaces for those who truly need it.

Freedom Mobility Solutions is a Maryland wheelchair store and mobility service dedicated to helping those with disabilities live more independent and comfortable lives. Come and visit our wheelchair showroom in Hanover, MD, or contact us to learn more about our mobility solutions today!

Madison Wine December 11, 2023
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