16 Tips On Wheelchair Etiquette

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Reading-- Return To Red Castle by Dorothy M. Keddington
Listening to-- my Mix-It-Up Mix

Today is BADD, or in plainspeak, Blogging Against Disablism Day! This is my first time participating in it, and I'm excited. *smiles* For my contribution, I thought I'd share something I found about a week or two ago: several tips for the able-bodied on wheelchair etiquette. I was excited when I found this page, for the tips or advice given says it best what I wish others--including my own family--understood about wheelchairs. I've tried explaining over the years the various points these tips give to many, but I was told, almost every single time, I was being overly-sensitive. So I'm very glad John Lytle felt it important enough to bring it to people's attention.

When you're with a person in a wheelchair...
1) Do not automatically hold on to a person’s wheelchair. It is part of the person’s body space. Hanging or leaning on the chair is similar to hanging or leaning on a person sitting in any chair. It is often fine if you are friends, but inappropriate if you are strangers.

This is the one I have a hard time getting my family to understand. They see nothing wrong with bumping into, pulling or hanging on to my wheelchair or handles. They don't get that it's part of my body space, and I don't understand why. When I try to liken it to them sitting in a chair, and me doing the same to them, they dismiss my complaint saying, as I mentioned above, I'm being too sensitive. That I need not let it bother me. Instances like this make me wish that the proverb of "walking a mile in another's moccasins" could be a definite reality. Only in this case, have the proverb be "going a mile in another's wheelchair.

2) Offer assistance if you wish, but do not insist. If a person needs help (s)he will accept your offer and tell you exactly what will be helpful. If you force assistance it can sometimes be unsafe as when you grab the chair and the person using it loses his/her balance.

This is another one my family sometimes fails in doing. They get impatient with my slowness or fumbling and decide it's best to speed things along by "helping" me. They forget what it feels like when accomplishing something difficult...how great it feels, knowing you can do something you weren't sure you could.

3) Talk directly to the person using the wheelchair, not to a third party. The person is not helpless or unable to talk.

I hated when people did this to me. *laughs* Doesn't happen much anymore. In fact, hardly at all. And now that I'm not shy, but bold enough to speak up when I've a mind to, I don't anticipate having it be an issue.

4) Don’t be sensitive about using words like "walking" or "running." People using wheelchairs use the same words.

5) Be alert to the existence of architectural barriers in your office and when selecting a restaurant, home, theatre or other facility, to which you want to visit with a person who uses a wheelchair.

You know, I think being in a wheelchair or having a friend in a wheelchair should be an experience people have. Because a wheelchair changes your perspective. I have two friends who've said they're glad they met me, because now they're aware. Aware if places or bathrooms are accessible or not. Aware of being careful not to park in Wheelchair Parking--which is number 7.

6) If conversation proceeds more than a few minutes and it is possible to do so, consider sitting down in order to share eye level. It is uncomfortable for a seated person to look straight up for a long period.

All I have to say to this is, AMEN! I am already short at 5'3", and even shorter sitting down. It's bad enough feeling like I'm living in a land of tall people.

7) Don’t park your car in a parking place in an accessible parking place. These places are reserved out of necessity, not convenience. The space is wider than usual in order to get wheelchairs in and out of the car and is close to the entrance for those who cannot push far.

This is a pet peeve of mine. I cannot count how many times my parents or friends have had to back out of a space when we're leaving a store or eatery, or have had to drive around a bit to find a spot, because some yahoo has thoughtlessly taken a designated parking space for the disabled. I should start carrying a notepad in addition to a pen, so I can write nasty notes to those who park where they shouldn't.

8) When your dept., church, civic group or organization sponsors a program, be sure people with disabilities are included in the planning and presentation.

9) When children ask about wheelchairs and people who use them, answer them in a matter-of-fact manner. Wheelchairs, bicycles and skates share a lot in common.

10) When you hear someone use the term “cripple,” politely but firmly indicate your preference for the words "person who has a disability."

I prefer "disabled" or physically challenged" myself. I hate the word "cripple."

11) If you wish to contribute to an organization that uses a “pity” or “sympathy” campaign, enclose a note with your check saying that the cause may be good, but the method of public appeal is demeaning to citizens with disabilities. Voice your disapproval of the “poor cripple” image.

12) Include people with disabilities in photos used in promotional material. When people with disabilities are presented in the media as competent, or “like other people,” write a note of support to the producer or publisher.

13) Make sure meeting places are architecturally accessible (with ramps, modified bathrooms, wide doors, low telephones, etc.) so that people with disabilities can be equal participants.

I could get on my soapbox about this one, but I won't, or we'd be here a good two or three hours. Or more.

14) Encourage your community to put “curb cuts” in sidewalks. These inexpensive built-in ramps enable wheelchair users to get from place to place independently.

Heh. This is another one I could get on my soapbox about, in my own community. They have curb cuts across the street and elsewhere in town, but on my block? Heck, no way! And we've been living in the same house for over 20 years!

15) Include people who use wheelchairs on community task forces (transportation, building, zoning) so that your town will meet the needs of all citizens.

Heh. I'd like to see this happen in my community, but I'm beginning to realize it's still in the "Dark Ages" of Disability History. We have a vocational rehabilitation chapter or whatever it's called--can't remember at the moment--and two sheltered workshops for the disabled, but I don't see any effort at getting them out and about, or actively involved in the community.

16) Make it a point to try to reduce barriers in your physical surroundings. Often these barriers have been created by architects, engineers and builders who were unaware. A simple “How could someone using a wheelchair get in here?” will help identify any barriers.

This is always greatly appreciated.

The Written Past
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