|If conversation lasts more than a few minutes, consider sitting down or kneeling to get yourself on the same level as the wheelchair user.|
The Schoitz Medical Center in Waterloo, lowa, prepared a pamphlet titled, “What do I do when I meet a person in a wheelchair?” It offers suggestions for non-wheelchair users who encounter wheelchair users. Below are the 12 guidelines from that booklet:
1. Always ask the wheelchair user if he or she would like assistance before you help. Your help may not be needed or wanted.
2. Don’t hang or lean on a person’s wheelchair because it is part of the wheelchair user’s personal body space.
3. Speak directly to the person in the wheelchair, not to someone nearby as if the wheelchair user did not exist.
4. If conversation lasts more than a few minutes, consider sitting down or kneeling to get yourself on the same level as the wheelchair user.
5. Don’t demean or patronize the wheelchair user by patting him or her on the head.
6. Give clear directions, including distance, weather conditions and physical obstacles that may hinder the wheelchair user’s travel.
7. Don’t discourage children from asking questions about the wheelchair. Open communication helps overcome fearful or misleading attitudes.
8. When a wheelchair user “transfers” out of the wheelchair to a chair, toilet, car or bed, do not move the wheelchair out of reaching distance.
9. It is OK to use expressions like “running along” when speaking to the wheelchair user. It is likely the wheelchair user expresses things the same way.
10. Be aware of a wheelchair user’s capabilities. Some users can walk with aid and use wheelchairs because they can conserve energy and move about quickly.
11. Don’t classify persons who use wheelchairs as “sick.” Wheelchairs are used for a variety of non-contagious disabilities.
12. Don’t assume that using a wheelchair is in itself a tragedy. It is a means of freedom that allows the user to move about independently. – From the Schoitz Medical Center in Waterloo, lowa, 1984
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