Seven things not to say to a wheelchair user

Whether amusing or downright offensive, some people seem to say inappropriate things, to wheelchair users , often with the best of intentions,

So  here’s the top 7 things never to do or say to a wheelchair user –  as offered by someone who knows. Lucy has been in a wheelchair for many years.

1.“Don’t run me over”

This one is often accompanied by a theatrical step out of the way or a dramatic flattening against the wall. The logic here is faulty: using a wheelchair does not increase the user’s capacity to do unwitting harm.

2.“Do you have a licence to drive that thing?

More faulty logic:  Most wheelchairs have a top speed of 7 kph, the speed of the average fast walk. No licence needed there !

3.”What happened to you then?”

Whilst this may stem from naïve curiosity , in truth the person is asking someone to reveal the intimate history of something which might be quite traumatic and which affects their life on a daily basis. Don’t be surprised if you get an unexpected answer e.g.  “I was born” or “ I was hit by lightning.” Best wait till the user brings up the topic – often only shared with friends

4. Don’t assume we can’t read

More common than you think – based onassumptions: that a physical disability indicates a learning or intellectual one, and secondly, that either of the latter precludes a person from being able to read.

5. “Nice to see people like you in a pub/club/the street”

Quite an extraordinary thing to say, indicating a belief that wheelchair users don’t seek a social life

6. Don’t try to drive our chairs

The chairs are not a toy for amusement. They support independence and autonomy

7. “Come to my religious institution and be cured”

Again faulty logic: Implication is that there is something wrong . For many wheelchair users, this is simply who they are, and they are proud of their identities.

Hope this input from a wheelchair user helps us all to find common ground to share the fortunate life we lead.

* With acknowledgement to Lucy Webster and The Guardian newspaper

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