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Thread: Wheelchair etiquette

  1. #1
    Distinguished Community Member houghchrst's Avatar
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    Oct 2006

    Default Wheelchair etiquette

    When You Meet a Person Who Uses A Wheelchair

    It is estimated that at least 25 million persons have mobility problems. Of these, approximately 500,000 use wheelchairs. People use wheelchairs as a result of a variety of disabilities, including spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, arthritis, cerebral palsy, polio, etc. Wheelchairs provide mobility for persons with paralysis, muscle weakness, lack of coordination, nerve damage, and/or stiffness of joints. Wheelchairs come in many sizes and shapes which are adapted to the lifestyle of the user. They range from custom-designed models for sports activities to basic utility models for use in hospitals and airports. Despite their active participation in our society, most people who use wheelchairs encounter attitudinal barriers which affect their lives on a daily basis.

    What Can You Do?

    1. Offer assistance if you wish, but do not insist. If a person needs help (s)he will accept your offer and tell you exactly what will be helpful. If you force assistance it can sometimes be unsafe as when you grab the chair and the person using it loses his/her balance.
    2. Do not automatically hold on to a person’s wheelchair. It is part of the person’s body space. Hanging or leaning on the chair is similar to hanging or leaning on a person sitting in any chair. It is often fine if you are friends, but inappropriate if you are strangers.
    3. Talk directly to the person using the wheelchair, not to a third party. The person is not helpless or unable to talk.
    4. Don’t be sensitive about using words like “walking” or “running.” People using wheelchairs use the same words.
    5. Be alert to the existence of architectural barriers in your office and when selecting a restaurant, home, theatre or other facility, to which you want to visit with a person who uses a wheelchair.
    6. If conversation proceeds more than a few minutes and it is possible to do so, consider sitting down in order to share eye level. It is uncomfortable for a seated person to look straight up for a long period.
    7. Don’t park your car in a parking place in an accessible parking place. These places are reserved out of necessity, not convenience. The space is wider than usual in order to get wheelchairs in and out of the car and is close to the entrance for those who cannot push far.
    8. When your dept., church, civic group or organization sponsors a program, be sure people with disabilities are included in the planning and presentation.
    9. When children ask about wheelchairs and people who use them, answer them in a matter-of-fact manner. Wheelchairs, bicycles and skates share a lot in common.
    10. When you hear someone use the term “cripple,” politely but firmly indicate your preference for the words “person who has a disability.”
    11. If you wish to contribute to an organization that uses a “pity” or “sympathy” campaign, enclose a note with your check saying that the cause may be good, but the method of public appeal is demeaning to citizens with disabilities. Voice your disapproval of the “poor cripple” image.
    12. Include people with disabilities in photos used in promotional material. When people with disabilities are presented in the media as competent, or “like other people,” write a note of support to the producer or publisher.
    13. Make sure meeting places are architecturally accessible (with ramps, modified bathrooms, wide doors, low telephones, etc.) so that people with disabilities can be equal participants.
    14. Encourage your community to put “curb cuts” in sidewalks. These inexpensive built-in ramps enable wheelchair users to get from place to place independently.
    15. Include people who use wheelchairs on community task forces (transportation, building, zoning) so that your town will meet the needs of all citizens.
    16. Make it a point to try to reduce barriers in your physical surroundings. Often these barriers have been created by architects, engineers and builders who were unaware. A simple “How could someone using a wheelchair get in here?” will help identify any barriers.

    Taken from the handbook entitled Free Wheeling published by the Regional Rehabilitation Research Institute on Attitudinal, Legal and Leisure Barriers, Washington, D.C

  2. #2
    Distinguished Community Member lor's Avatar
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    Oct 2006


    Thanks Christina, I used a wheelchair in rehab & know what you mean.

    Also, can people with a walker get a hadicaped cticker for the car? It's hard to walk on an unven surface/parking lot. Another reason is that handicaped spaces are wider. It's hard to walk next to the car then open the door, in a regular space.
    Lorraine (lor)

  3. #3
    Distinguished Community Member houghchrst's Avatar
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    Oct 2006


    Yes ma'am they can. I don't use either walker nor cane, though I do use a rolley cart once in a while, and I have the handicap plate and placard. I just pick up a form from DMV and drop it off to have the doc fill it out and I return it to DMV. The DMV should have forms out to just be picked up so you don't have to wait in line. If I recall correctly there are some DMV cost benefits that come with the handicap placard for replacements and stuff.

  4. #4
    Distinguished Community Member Beader's Avatar
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    Mar 2008
    Upper Chesapeake


    You can also qualify for a handicapped placard if you just can't walk very far or for very long for variety of reasons. But if it comes w/ a "this belongs to me" card, be sure to keep that in your glove compartment.

    I was at a Home Depot picking up 50 pound bags of pebbles, like 6-8 of them, & the guy loaded them into the trunk of my small car. Needless to say, the car was quite loaded down & I was worried about negotiating the windy road home. There was an Acme next door & I ran in to get a deli container of food so I wouldn't have to cook, so I was only inside for a few minutes. I came out & there was a ticket on my car for parking in a handicapped space, except the placard was on the front seat -- visible. When I went into the station to fight the ticket, I brought the placard w/ me, & the administrator demanded to see my other "card", saying that the placard could have been issued for anyone. Honey, have placards in my desk from the past 20 years, ya wanna see all of them? Do you think I collect them as a hobby?

    I used to live in PA & now live in MD, so maybe they issue something else w/ the placard, but I sure couldn't find anything. They basically want me to get a placard from my new home state. One more thing to add to the list...
    My Life Menu: CFS probably since birth, full flavored since the 80s, with Fibromyalgia, Major Depression with a side order of Anxiety and Agoraphobia sauce, Restless Leg Syndrome with spicy Other Sleep Disorders, 11 Eye Surgeries, a generous helping of Gut Problems

  5. #5
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    Oct 2006


    I had not heard such *discussion* like I heard when I was in wheelchair for that two years or so from hubby. He'd get so mad. A lot of places would have the handicapped spots at the weirdest places etc. and he'd go in fussing at them etc. I thought, how weird, you'd think it was him in the wheelchair, instead of the driver.

  6. #6
    Distinguished Community Member Earth Mother 2 Angels's Avatar
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    Oct 2006
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    Thank you for posting this.

    I'd like to add my pet peeve as the mom of two sons, who used wheelchairs.

    Do not expect the person in the wheelchair or the assistant, who is propelling the wheelchair for that person, to get out of your way, as they approach you, while you walk toward them. Able bodied people should yield the right of way to persons in wheelchairs.

    As the assistant, who pushes my sons' wheelchairs, I find it extremely irritating, when an able bodied person(s) walking towards us refuses to walk around us, forcing me to push the wheelchair around that walking person. And this occurs in crowds, on sidewalks, in stores, everywhere. It is so very inconsiderate toward the person in the chair and that person's assistant. It takes a lot more effort to maneuver a wheelchair than it does to step a couple of feet over to get out of the chair's way.

    Curb cuts and architectural accessibility are mandated by the ADA. That notwithstanding, it has taken me 35 years to get our city to install one on the end of our street, the only street in our neighborhood without a curb cut. Ironic, eh?

    Another helpful thought: Open the door for people, who are in wheelchairs. For that matter, open the door for anyone! It is a very kind and courteous gesture. My rear end has propped open more doors, while backing wheelchairs into an entrance, than I can count, because no one was thoughtful enough to hold the door open for me.

    My favorite anecdote to recall from bygone years:

    I was pushing both of my boys' wheelchairs and an overflowing cart full of groceries in a store, where I often shopped. I did it thusly: Push one chair to the next aisle. Run back to other chair. Push that chair to the aisle. Run back to the cart. Push that to and down the aisle, while my eyes were peeled on my boys at the end of the aisle. Repeat throughout store.

    In the checkout line, I ended up with two baskets of groceries, once everything was bagged. When I was able, I stocked up, because shopping was hard work with two wheelchairs to manage.

    The young man, who bagged our groceries, looked at me, my two sons in their chairs, and the two grocery carts.

    He asked me, "Do you want help out to your car?"

    When I controlled my outburst of laughter, I replied, "No thank you. I can handle it. And later, I'm going to leap over a tall building in a single bound."

    Just recognizing that another person needs assistance and providing that assistance is often the greatest gift we can give.

    Thanks again, Christina, for posting this.

    Love & Light,

    Mom to Jon, 48, (seizure disorder; Gtube; trache; colostomy; osteoporosis; hypothyroid; enlarged prostate; lymphedema, assorted mysteries) and Michael, 32, (intractable seizures; Gtube), who were born with an undiagnosed progressive neuromuscular disease and courageous spirits. Our Angel Michael received his wings in 2003 and now resides in Heaven. Our Angel Jon lives at home with me and Jim, the world's most wonderful Dad.

  7. #7
    Distinguished Community Member houghchrst's Avatar
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    Oct 2006


    Sher we don't have a handicap card for our placards. They use part of our driver's license # on the placard in permanent marker while we are standing right there at the DMV. Sounds like a whole pain in the butt to try and keep track of yet another bit of documentation.

    Well holy smokes Rose! Talk about supermom. You are one of the many awesome supermoms out there. Our city and township has gone a long way to making our sidewalks and curbs wheelchair friendly. People seem to just keep getting ruder and more insensitive as the years go by. It seems to be an uphill battle. You would think that the more people are being educated about exposed to those with disabilites that the attitudes would change but it seems the moral fiber of society is taking a steady decline so there is no time for the two to catch up. Wow does that make any sense lol. I kow what I mean dang it.

    Jo you have no idea how many times I have pulled up to a building and had the handicap ramp thrown in the end of a sidewalk like an after thought so the parking is farther away from the actual door. Not good for those of us that don't need the ramp but need the parking spot up front. Good thing I can still step up a curb though for as many stumbles I make you wouldn't think so.

  8. #8
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    Oct 2006

    Unhappy Wheelchairs

    Thanks for posting Christina. I'm another one who used one while I was in rehab, and for about a month after I went home. I gained new insight as to what it meant for places to be "Handicap accessible," Grocery store aisles were usually fine, chain stores - not so much.


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