So what are the things that bug us the most when we are in a wheelchair? The stuff caused by others? Here is what we would like you to do and not to do so that we both can be more comfortable in the end.
1. Don’t ever push my wheelchair without asking first and then getting my consent.
Do you remember what happened when you touched your father's wheel when he was driving? Same goes for my wheels. It's dangerous because you can't see in front of me and you could dump me out. I can't talk to you comfortably when you are pushing me from behind. On flat surface I am faster than you are. And if I need help (usually with very heavy doors or up a steep hill), I will ask. If you really want to help, ask if I need help with anything. And accept No for an answer.
2. Look into my eyes, shake my hand, just don’t stare at my legs.
3. If you are going to talk to me for more than a few minutes, consider sitting down or squatting.
That way my neck won't hurt from looking up at you. A grownup will often squat down when he talks to a child. Well, I am as tall as a seven year old in my chair.
4. But don’t talk to me like I am a child, intellectually challenged or hard of hearing.
If you shout at me, I will probably shout back at you and ask you if I am loud enough because I noticed you are hard of hearing.
5. Talk directly to me, not to a third person.
6. Don’t lean on my wheelchair or use it as a coat rack. The wheelchair is part of my personal space.
7. Don’t patronize me. It really gets on my nerves. Don’t pat me on my head, don’t rub my back extensively, don’t tell me how brave I am and how sorry you are.
The truth is, one either moves on or one can sit home, feeling sorry for himself. And that applies to everything that we experience in our lives. Pity is not constructive. Getting rid of barriers, both emotional and physical, is.
8. It is OK to use words like running along or let’s go for a walk.
9. It is not OK for an able-bodied person to use words like gimp and cripple though it is OK for a paraplegic to call himself that.
10. Don’t use phrases like wheelchair-bound or confined to a wheelchair. You are not confined to your car, are you?
The wheelchair is my friend, getting me from one point to another. And there are many reasons for using a chair. Some people use it for longer distances though they can walk a short distance. We use wheelchair and we use our cars.
11. Don’t say “You need a beeper/ horn/ flag on that thing.”
I will make a beeping sound myself if I need to. And if you didn't see me, please, instead of "Sorry, I didn't see you" (I already know that I am invisible to many), why don't you rather say: "Sorry, I didn't pay attention."
12. If you are blocking my way, just move out of my way and don’t repeat “I’m so sorry”. But if you don’t move and I picked up some speed, you might get your toes run over.
And don't assume that I can't open doors. Often (not always) it's easier for me to open them by myself than worry about you leaving your toes in my way. But if you wear steal-toed boots, you can take your chances.
13. It’s all right for kids to ask questions. I will even show them some tricks, pop a wheelie for them. But it’s inappropriate for you to ask me personal questions about my wheelchair. If I want to share with you, I will. If I say it’s personal, please respect it.
And the truth is, stories about your great-aunt who needs to use a walker or a wheelchair, really don’t interest me. I’d like you not to be nosy on one hand and not to share irrelevant information with me on the other. Just because I have green eyes, you don’t tell me about other people with green eyes, do you?