Wheelchair Etiquette – Eye-Opening Guidelines

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Wheelchair users are no different from anyone else in society and should be treated and talked to with dignity and respect. Although not intentional, others may accidentally offend or embarrass persons in wheelchairs without realizing it. Whether you are meeting a person in a wheelchair on the street, work with a wheelchair user or may be sharing the road with wheelchair accessible vans and/or vehicles, being mindful of the proper etiquette guidelines will go a long way to easing any potentially awkward situations.

Why is it important to follow Wheelchair Etiquette Guidelines?

Wheelchairs are used for a variety reasons including recovery from accidents, surgery, illness or walking restrictions. You should never judge or doubt a person’s disability but always show the same consideration and respect for wheelchair users as you would for other people. Disability transportation services have the exact same rights as other vehicles and showing respect for parking spots reserved for wheelchair accessible vans or vehicles is one of many things you can do to recognize those rights.

Wheelchair accessible ramps and other public spaces designated for wheelchair use are also important items for someone using a wheelchair when they travel. Understanding the difficulty of navigating a wheelchair in public spaces is a first step to understanding the challenges faced by people in wheelchairs. If obstacles are encountered, it is okay to ask the person in a wheelchair what is the easiest way they would like to address the obstacles and listen to their instructions. You can also be mindful of parking ramps intended use and allow the appropriate space necessary in parking spots for wheelchair accessible vans.

What are some of the most important Guidelines to follow for Proper Wheelchair Etiquette?

There are some very basic things to remember when interacting with people in wheelchairs. Firstly, that they just want to live their lives happily and as independently as possible. Treat a person in a wheelchair just like you would any other person you meet or interact with.

  • Greetings – Always extend your hand for a proper handshake if meeting for the first time. Teach and talk to children about persons with disabilities and wheelchairs. This will prevent fearful or negative attitudes in the future.
  • Speak directly to the wheelchair user – Recognize the wheelchair user and do not talk over the wheelchair to any companions. Always speak directly to the person in the wheelchair with regular words and phrases.
  • Do not refer to the wheelchair – A wheelchair is simply a part of their personal space. Unless you are planning to purchase a wheelchair for yourself or family member, asking about someone’s wheelchair is considered disrespectful.
  • Do not touch the wheelchair or the person in the wheelchair – Depending on their condition, inappropriate touching of their mobility device or a gentle pat on the back may cause unnecessary back pain or create balance issues.
  • Offer help at appropriate times and show respect.

In Canada, 81.3% of people with disabilities reported using an aid or assistive device for mobility (STATCAN 2012).  You probably know someone or will know someone throughout your life or encounter wheelchair users when you travel. Understanding proper wheelchair etiquette will help you interact in a comfortable manner.

By following these simple etiquette guidelines you will make a wheelchair user feel comfortable and welcome. Always make sure to respect wheelchair users, their wheelchair accessible vans and any types of disability transportation just as you would like to be respected.

If you have someone in your family who will be using a wheelchair now or in the future, Wheelchair In Motion can answer questions about proper wheelchair etiquette and safe travel options in wheelchair accessible rental vans. There is no reason you or your family cannot enjoy all the things that life has to offer. Contact us today to discuss your needs and any other questions about wheelchair transportation.


on Wheelchair Etiquette – Eye-Opening Guidelines

  • 1
    Carol Coiffe on October 26 at 5:59 PM

    Great points on Wheelchair Etiquette that aren’t talked about often enough – I will share these comments.
    I would encourage future articles to use wording “person using a wheelchair” active term & stay away from ” person in a wheelchair” passive term. Thanks Carol

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