How do you talk to someone who uses a wheelchair? Just like you would anyone else!
- Talk to them and not about them
A common mistake people make is assuming there is a mental disability as well as a physical one. When you speak to the party with the individual in a wheelchair and not directly to the individual it’s disrespectful. We can answer questions directly and make our own choices. Speak to us directly and make eye contact. We don’t bite!
- Do not speak to us like we are children
I am not your sport, pal, or buddy. Address me as you would any other adult. I managed to graduate from college, therefore I can manage to speak and comprehend more than a third grader. If you’re dealing with a child obviously you treat them as you would any other child their age.
- Do not ask questions that you would not ask your mother
This is especially important if you’re standing next to my wife. It is inappropriate to ask about personal matters such as sex or bathroom use. Many people will not talk about their injury or how it occurred. Would you want the focus of every conversation in your life to be about that huge nose you inherited from your grandfather? How do you live with that thing? We are people, not a disability. I am open to answering most questions, but it has be asked in a respectful manner.
- Remember that we have normal interests
We enjoy keeping up with our favorite sports teams. We enjoy talking about relevant topics in society. Remember that people who suffer from a disability do not necessarily suffer from a lack of living life.
- Don’t touch my wheelchair
No, I do not consider my wheelchair to be a part of me. It’s still my property and you don’t need to touch it. Besides that I do not know when the last time you washed your hands or used hand sanitizer. Keep your germy hands off my stuff.
- Don’t make childish comments about speed
Yes, we can move faster than you can walk and no they don’t give out tickets for it. No one enjoys being reminded of their disability in daily life.
- Don’t ask how we manage to not kill ourselves
Several people make comments about how they would rather be dead than be disabled. My life is rich and full of activities and love. If you wish to go on and end your life because it’s that empty be my guest. Do not transfer your misguided notions of disabled life onto me.
- Do not assume that we are unable to do things
Many disabled people live completely independent lives and do not require outside assistance. I do more in my community that most of my able bodied friends. Do not make assumptions about wheelchair life. A wheelchair is a tool to get you from A to B. It does not stop you from doing anything.
- It’s okay to help
It is okay to offer to help someone if you see them struggling. It is not okay to force your help onto another person. Many people want to complete tasks for themselves even if you see it taking much more time than you would need. If your help is rejected let it go and move on. You have no reason to stand guard and baby sit them until you’re satisfied the job was accomplished. We manage to live our own lives without you watching all day long.
- Remember that we’re not different
If you are able to get past the wheelchair you will see that we are no different than you or anyone else. We have good days and bad days. We have emotions and thoughts. We are capable of almost anything we set our minds to doing. A physical disability does not limit one’s intellectual capabilities or their abilities to share joy with others.
It’s easy to strike up a conversation with someone in a wheelchair. Use common sense and be respectful when speaking to anyone, regardless of a perceived disability. Don’t let a wheelchair make you feel uncomfortable about getting to know a new person. I don’t judge you for driving an ugly car do I? It’s a wheelchair, it’s not a part of who are physically. There are a lot of topics to cover so pull up a chair and have a seat.