5 Things NOT To Say To Someone In A Wheelchair

I’ve witnessed some pretty interesting social blunders since my mom began using a wheelchair. I generally let them slide because most people really do mean well. They may feel uncomfortable and unsure of how to act.

Clearly, people need to be educated about how to interact with this population. The key concept? Focus on the person, not on the disability.They are people first. Below are the top 5 things I hear people say that leave the wheelchair bound individual feeling less than warm and fuzzy.

  1. “What would your mom like to order?”
    This assumption rears its ugly head in restaurants. Just because an individual has mobility issues does not in any way indicate difficulty reading, talking or making decisions. Speak directly to the person until you get some type of sign that the accompanying friend or family member needs to order for them.
  2. ”What happened to you?
    This question is fine, and likely appreciated, when asked by a close friend or family member. In the context of meeting someone for the first time, it’s just plain rude. Ask questions about hobbies, travel experiences, etc if you want to make conversation.

3.“I had to use a wheelchair when I broke my leg, so I know exactly what you’re going through.
No, you really don’t. An injury is a temporary inconvenience, difficult as it may make your life during that time period. People confined to a wheelchair permanently are not looking forward to being up and about at some point. You may be more sensitive to the needs of someone with mobility issues after recovering, which is wonderful, but you do not know how it feels to adjust to giving up activities you love forever

4. ”I was only parked there for a minute”
Don’t. Just don’t. Handicapped parking spots are in high demand in some lots, and Mom shouldn’t have to compete with an able bodied person for this convenience. I am not referring to people who have disabilities that are not outwardly visible. They deserve the parking spot near the entrance as much as anyone if they have a handicapped parking tag. I am talking about those who simply feel entitled to use the spot up front because they are busy or don’t feel like walking. People who need these spots have schedules to meet and places to go as well. Please walk the extra 50 yards; you can bet the person in the chair wishes they could.

5. “Here, Let Me Help You!”
Those in wheelchairs are grateful to those who help when needed. We know you are trying to be kind. However, they will appreciate your asking before jumping in more than you know. Most people in wheelchairs like to try to do things for themselves. It helps them feel “normal”. No one likes to feel completely helpless or dependent on others.

Thank you to all the wonderful people who work to communicate with people like my mom, despite the fact you may be unsure of what to say. Fielding uncomfortable remarks certainly feels better than being ignored. However, those in a wheelchair are more similar to you than different; they want to be understood and treated with respect. They are people first.

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