How to Interact with Someone in a Wheelchair

Today’s post is a little tongue-in-cheek, but is also based on real-life experiences that I’ve had, many times. Even though I don’t think that being in a wheelchair defines me, often it’s the first – and only – think people say when they meet me for the first time, or even when they’re passing me in the street. So today, I want to share some guidelines for how to interact with me, or with anyone else in a wheelchair!

  • Talk directly to me
    You might not think that I’d need to spell this one out, but believe me, I do. When my sister and I are anywhere together, the comments we are most likely to get include: “Aww, how sweet!” “Are they twins?” and weirdly “How old are they?” Never are these questions directed at us – they’re usually directed at my mom, but people will ask our friend/cousin/whoever is there. Usually, I will answer so that people know I can, in fact, hear them, and can talk. But even if I couldn’t – start by directly addressing me, not whoever I’m with. And while we’re at it… you don’t need to know how old I am! If you wouldn’t make the comment to someone not in a wheelchair, don’t make it to me.
  • It’s okay to hold the door open for me
    I think automatic door buttons are great – they let me open doors! I’m in no way opposed to them. But if I’m heading towards a door, and you get there before me – it’s really more than okay to open the door and hold it open for me. I promise that I will not be mad. I definitely feel awkward otherwise, while you stare at me, waiting for me to get to the button and press it to open the door. Which brings me to…
  • Stop staring at me
    Please stop staring at me! I can tell when you’re doing it, and I will stare back until you realize what you’re doing. If you want to actually engage with me and have a conversation – great! I am open to genuine curiosity. But don’t just stare at me.
  • If I’m behind you on the sidewalk, you don’t need to leap out of the way
    I have been driving a wheelchair since I was three years old. While there are certainly dented walls all over my house from my early years, I’ve had it down for a while now. If I’m behind you on the sidewalk, I’m not going to accidentally accelerate and run you down. If you want to politely move over a little so I can get past, thanks – I really appreciate it. But you don’t need to jump to the side and leave me a five foot berth between us. Basically…
  • Treat me like a human being
    Extend me common courtesies like you would anyone else, but please try to still treat me like a person. I am a woman that uses a wheelchair, but I am still a woman! Remember that every person who uses a wheelchair is just a person.

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