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