There are many reasons people may use a wheelchair, power scooter or other mobility aids. These devices enable people who have limited mobility to get around.
But what’s the best way to interact with and relate to people using mobility equipment? Here are some helpful suggestions to consider when talking to and spending time with someone using a wheelchair or scooter.
1: Do Shake Hands
When meeting someone who uses mobility equipment for the first time, do offer to shake their hand, even if it seems they may have reduced limb movement. This is to keep social norms and also serves to acknowledge them as a person, not as their disability.
2: Don’t Stare
If the person you are interacting with has physical differences due to their condition, don’t draw extra attention to them. However, if you have children and they are part of the conversation or they see a person using a wheelchair, don’t discourage them from staring or asking questions – they are curious and your positive encouragement can help to reduce the stigma for future generations.
3: Do Get Down on Their Level
When having a conversation for longer than a few minutes with someone in a wheelchair or mobility device, attempt to get down to their level, so you’re not standing over them. This means you will be talking as equals. However, it is preferable to find a seat instead of leaning down, as leaning over them may be interpreted as being patronising, even if this isn’t your intention.
This will also reduce the amount of strain the person’s neck is exposed to, as looking up for extended periods of time can get very uncomfortable.
4: Don’t Lean or Hang
A person’s wheelchair or scooter is part of their personal space. So it may be considered rude to support your weight by using a part of their equipment, or lean on a part of it while you talk. This would be like resting your arm on someone’s shoulder, as you had a friendly chat with them – a type of contact usually reserved for those very close, with a strong bond of trust already.
5: Don’t Talk To and Through Their Carer
If the person you are talking to is in the company of a carer, talk with them, rather than the carer. It can be quite alienating to be talked about rather than to, especially if they are the focal point of the interaction.
6: Do Ask
If you’re unsure of something, just ask the person. This includes offers of assistance with any task, from moving to eating or drinking. It will save both you and them an awkward moment, if you clarify any help they may need, before rushing in guns blazing to assist them. Give them the option to refuse your assistance and don’t take offence. People in wheelchairs have every right to feel as empowered as the rest of us, to do as much as they can for themselves.
We hope this guide helps ease any awkward moments you may have when interacting with people in wheelchairs.