Monday, February 2, 2009

WBTV, Wheelchair Etiquette, and Duct Tape

Including the stinky word "bound ..."
The first rule of etiquette when interacting with people in wheelchairs, or power chairs, is to remember that one should not focus on their disability. Instead, focus on the person. Another rule of etiquette is the act of shaking hands, even if their limbs are limited in use. This gesture will set the tone for the interaction and make the person residing in the chair feel more at ease. Another important rule to remember is that one should never lean on or rock the wheelchair. A manual or electric wheelchair may seem to be only an inanimate object, but the truth is the chair is part of them and their body, just as an arm or leg is to someone who is not wheelchair bound.
And so I was bound to reply ...

Please drop "wheelchair bound" as a description of a person who uses a wheelchair. Even after 50 years of using a wheelchair, I cannot shake the image of duct tape, unlawful restraint, and someone wanting to escape. No one is "bound" to a wheelchair.

Nice piece overall, but here are a few more hints.

  1. Don't touch the chair. Don't use it as a foot rest in a movie theater or other public place.
  2. Don't pat the wheelchair user on the head or shoulders.
  3. Don't tell the person he or she is a "hero" or "brave."
  4. Don't suggest more fervent prayers might cure their disability.
  5. Don't ask "What's wrong with you?"
  6. Don't be afraid to allow your children to interact, even to the point of asking a question you might think inappropriate.
  7. Keep toddlers who like to 'look with their hands' away from a power wheelchair's control unit. Little hands might grab and the chair might lurch and hurt someone.


Greg said...

good post!

Carter said...

I only wish that somebody would publish that list (with your additions and revisions) somewhere all of us would be likely to see it.

I never gave a thought to this aspect of etiquette until I met you, though I tend to be "proper" in most of my interactions with people of all stripes. Even now, when it's very much on my mind, I could goof. One of you guys, or your organizations, should figure how to get it pushed into the heads of the public. Most people mean well, but they're ignorant.