Shaking Hands

Because I have such a high level injury, I am unable to move anything below the C1/C2 level. This is why I require a ventilator for breathing and 24 hr nursing care to assist me with my needs. Besides the obvious health and safety implications, having an injury this high also creates a few social obstacles that I have yet to figure out.

When meeting new people, the societal norm (in the US, anyway) is to shake hands. On several occasions, people unfamiliar with me or my injury have reached out to shake my hand. They don’t realize that I am paralyzed and unable to shake back. This actually occurs quite often so I am trying to figure out what to do when it does. Most of the time, I just sit there, but this usually makes them feel embarrassed for extending their hand or bad when they realize I can’t reciprocate. I should respond with something like “I would love to shake your hand, but I’m unable to. It is nice to meet you.” Or something like that.

But then I had another idea…what if I could get a mechanical arm built onto my wheelchair?! Every time someone tries to shake my hand, my nurse or I could push a button to raise the arm. Yes, this would take a lot of work. Maybe a go-to statement or sign of some sort is the best route. It would certainly be more polite than just staring blankly at them and making them feel awkward!

I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes I laugh to myself after the person walks away. Not at the person but at the situation itself. I know I can’t shake their hand, but they don’t always realize that. Next time it happens I’m going to say something and see what kind of reaction I get.


While writing this article, I searched Google images for “shaking hands”. After looking through 14 pages of people shaking hands, I finally found this photo of a guy reaching his hand out to me with his head cropped out. Perfect representation.

Fellow high-level quadriplegics: how do you react when someone tries to shake your hand?

Photo Credit Flickr CC

1 reply
  1. Tom
    Tom says:

    I love this topic, my injury is different than yours, my injury is a c6 c7, although I’m not able to shake a hand, I am able to extend my arm, my fingers are curled in, so when the opportunity presents itself I extend my arm and reply “pound it” ( with a smile ) and then comment I wish I could blow it up ! It definitely seems to lighten the mood, and eliminate the awkwardness of the dainty handshake.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply