Wheelchair Etiquette


I just finished an excellent book called Accidents of Nature. It is a wonderful book about a girl with CP (cerebral palsy) who goes to a summer camp whit other kids who have special needs. In the book, she learns about, herself, and how other special needs kids feel and are treated in 1970, and builds an understanding of how “norms” treated the special needs community. While reading it occurred to me that I had never been taught the etiquette for interacting with someone who uses a wheelchair. I naturally try to treat them like I would anyone but is that appropriate?

Here is the proper Etiquette according to Mobility-advisor

  • Always ask the person using the wheelchair if he or she would like assistance BEFORE you help. It may not be needed or wanted.
  • Don’t hang or lean on a person’s wheelchair because it is part of that person’s personal body space.
  • If conversation lasts more than a few minutes, use wheelchair etiquette and consider sitting down or kneeling to get yourself on the same level.
  • Don’t 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.
  • Don’t classify persons who use wheelchairs as sick. Wheelchairs are used for a variety of non-contagious disabilities.
  • Speak directly to the person in the wheelchair, not to someone nearby as if the person in the wheelchair did not exist.
  • 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.

So basically the answer is yes. Treat a person like a person.


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