Four ways to properly approach a wheelchair user

Iqura shares her first hand advice on how to interact properly with a wheelchair user.

Written by Iqura Naseem


Have you ever been unsure of how to approach someone who uses a wheelchair? Are you often unsure of what to say to them? Are you unsure if you should ask them for assistance? If so, you have come to the right place! Welcome to my guide on how to approach someone in a wheelchair. I myself am a wheelchair user, so this is first-hand information.

1. Communicate with us, wheelchair users

Do not talk to the people around us. I am able to speak, I want to speak. I would give the advice of just saying hi, and having a small conversation. From that, you should be able to tell if the wheelchair user is able to communicate effectively or not. If they cannot communicate effectively, keep trying. Do not pretend you understand them because chances are that they know, which will end up being more embarrassing for you. Keep trying, never give up! Even ask yes or no questions and ask them to indicate their yes or no, for example, look up if yes, look down if no.

Never touch their wheelchair or push them without asking. Consent is so important. As wheelchair users, if someone touches our wheelchair, it’s like someone is touching us. Would you like someone touching you without permission? No right? Never push a wheelchair user without their permission. When crossing the road, if they are in a manual wheelchair, ask them if they would like some help. If they say no, it is okay to keep an eye on them just in case. If they begin to struggle, ask them again if they would like some help. Also, it is impossible to push a powerchair. I think this is a pretty known fact, but I am just putting it in here, just in case.

3. Don’t put us on a pedestal

My third tip would be not to think of us as inspiration. Just because I got out of bed this morning, doesn’t make me any better than you. Why would it? I remember people used to say I am so bright because I go to third level. But my question to you is why? Why are people with disabilities doing something ordinary, and inspiring? We, the community of people with a disability, want to be treated equally. 

In school, lots of people asked if I was going to university and when I said I was, they would say the famous phrase, “fair play”. Other people were not asked this, it was just assumed everyone else was going to third level. It’s sad that people with disabilities are not put to the same standard as the able-bodied. I am writing this article because I can. I went to university because I could.

4. Ask how to address someone with a disability

Try not to ask someone in a wheelchair what is wrong with them, without asking their permission first. For example, first say: “Hey can I ask you a question about your disability?” When thinking of which phrase to use, I would give you the advice of asking someone’s preference. I like the term person with a disability, but another wheelchair user could prefer the term disabled person.

Feeling overwhelmed and want to talk to someone?

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