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Wheelchair Etiquette: What Everyone Should Know

Wheelchair Etiquette: What Everyone Should Know
Christian J. Amendt

You see someone in a wheelchair struggling to open a door. Or, maybe you’re out with a friend who is in a wheelchair and they’re struggling to navigate the sidewalks and curbs. You don’t want to simply stand there and do nothing to help — but you also don’t want to seem patronizing.

What’s the right thing to do? Here are some tips about wheelchair etiquette for the able-bodied:

  1. Speak directly to the person in the wheelchair. That’s easy to remember if they’re your friend, but you may be uncertain what to do if they seem to be with a caregiver. Always treat the person in the wheelchair as a person.
  2. Ask before you leap into action. Some people in wheelchairs may be more than happy to accept your help with a door or willing to let you push them over a difficult curb. Others simply don’t need the help. It’s great to offer help — but you shouldn’t assume that it’s wanted or take offense if it isn’t.
  3. Never touch the wheelchair or the person without permission. Even if you have asked if the person in the wheelchair would like some help, make it very clear what you are offering. It’s terrifying to have a stranger take hold of your wheelchair without warning. Say something like, “Is it okay to push your chair through the door?” rather than just assuming.
  4. Don’t comment on their wheelchair or their disability. People use wheelchairs for all kinds of reasons. Some have back injuries that don’t let them walk very far or suffer from other physical problems. Some have limited mobility — while others cannot stand at all. Remember that an offer of assistance doesn’t entitle you to ask personal questions.

Wheelchair users face a lot of obstacles in their daily life because of poorly maintained sidewalks and ramps, or sidewalks and ramps that aren’t properly configured or are outright missing. If your family member or friend in a wheelchair is injured due to problems like these, make sure to find out more about the potential for a personal injury claim.

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