Interacting with People in Wheelchairs

First and foremost you must remember that people with disabilities are individuals – they may be your friends, your co-workers, your neighbours. When dealing with people who use wheelchairs you must know that they might have different disabilities and varying abilities. Some can use their arms and hands. Some can get out of their wheelchairs and even walk for short distances.

Here are some important tips to keep in mind when interacting with people who use wheelchairs or have mobility impairments -

  • Wheelchair users are people, not equipment. Don't lean over someone in a wheelchair to shake another person's hand or ask a wheelchair user to hold coats. Setting your drink on the desktop attached to someone's wheelchair is a definite no-no.
  • Don't push or touch a person's wheelchair; it's part of her personal space. If you help someone down a curb without waiting for instructions, you may dump him or her out of the chair. You may detach the chair's parts if you lift it by the handles or the footrest.
  • Keep the ramps and wheelchair-accessib le doors to your building unlocked and unblocked.
  • Be aware of a wheelchair users' reach limits. Place as many items as possible within their grasp. Make sure that there is a clear path of travel to shelves and display racks.
  • When talking to a wheelchair user, grab your own chair and sit at his or her level. If that's not possible, stand at a slight distance, so that he/she isn't straining her neck to make eye contact with you.
  • If your building has different routes through it, be sure that signs direct wheelchair users to the most accessible ways around the facility. People who walk with a cane or crutches also need to know the easiest was to get around a place, but stairs may be easier for them than a ramp. Ensure that security guards and receptionists at your business can answer questions about the most accessible way around the building.
  • People who use canes or crutches need their arms to balance themselves, so never grab them. Mobility-impaired people may lean on a door for support as they open it. Pushing them or quickly opening the door may cause them to fall. Even pulling out or pushing in a chair may present a problem. Always ask before offering help.
  • If you offer a seat to a mobility-impaired person, keep in mind that chairs with arms are easier for some people to use.
  • Falls are a big problem for people with mobility impairments. Be sure to set out adequate warning signs after washing floors. Also put out mats on rainy or snowy days to keep the floors as dry as possible. (Make sure they don't bunch up and make the floor impassable for wheelchair users.)
  • People who are not visibly mobility impaired may have needs related to their mobility. For example, a person with a respiratory or heart condition may have trouble walking long distances or walking quickly.

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