How to interact with a person in a wheelchair

How to interact with a person in a wheelchair
How to interact with a person in a wheelchair

People find themselves in wheelchairs for different reasons. Wheelchairs allow them to regain more mobility, like a car or a bicycle. If you are interacting with a person in a wheelchair for the first time, it might be difficult to know what to do. You don't want to unintentionally offend her, but at the same time you want to help and understand her. The most important thing to remember is that people in wheelchairs are not that different from you.


Part 1 of 3: Show respect

Interact with a Person Who Uses a Wheelchair Step 1

Step 1. Avoid assuming things about this person's abilities

Just because she is in a wheelchair does not mean she is paralyzed or unable to take a few steps. Some people use a wheelchair only because they cannot stand for an extended period of time or because they cannot walk properly. Often times, people with heart problems use a wheelchair to avoid straining too much. If you are curious as to why this person uses a wheelchair, you might be better off asking them than imagining it. Consider asking permission to ask the question before asking it so that person can decline to answer if the answer makes them uncomfortable. For example: "Do you mind if I ask you why you use a wheelchair?""

Do not ask this person until you have established some familiarity. This is not a question you want to ask strangers

Interact with a Person Who Uses a Wheelchair Step 2

Step 2. Speak directly to the person in the wheelchair

If the person using the wheelchair is accompanied by another person, involve that person in the conversation as well, but do not act as an intermediary between you and the person in the wheelchair. For example, do not direct questions for the person in the wheelchair to the person accompanying them.

Sit down during a long conversation with a person in a wheelchair. It is very tiring for someone in a wheelchair to constantly lift their head to look at you

Interact with a Person Who Uses a Wheelchair Step 3

Step 3. Ask permission before touching the person in the wheelchair or their wheelchair

You may be disrespectful leaning on his wheelchair. That person might use it because of an injury, so you might hurt them in addition to being condescending.

Treat the wheelchair as an extension of that person's body. If you don't dare touch that person's shoulder, don't put your hand on their wheelchair either

Part 2 of 3: be careful

Interact with a Person Who Uses a Wheelchair Step 4

Step 1. Understand the difficulties of using a wheelchair in public when accompanying a person in a wheelchair

Locate the access ramps. They are usually found on the sides of doors or near toilets, stairs or elevators. When you go down a path with a lot of obstacles, ask her what is the easiest way for her. Listen to her and follow her instructions carefully.

If you are hosting an event, make sure it is accessible. Check the presence of a barrier at the entrance to the building. Make sure aisles and hallways are wide enough to maneuver a wheelchair. The toilet should also be large enough to turn the wheelchair and a handrail is necessary. If the event takes place outdoors, the ground or surface must allow the wheelchair to move easily. Gravel, sand, and soft or uneven surfaces can be a challenge for a person in a wheelchair

Interact with a Person Who Uses a Wheelchair Step 5

Step 2. Be careful in public areas

Some public spaces are designed to accommodate people in wheelchairs. Special toilets, parking spaces and offices at the school are designed to be wheelchair accessible. Do not use these spaces unless you are accompanied by a person in a wheelchair. You can use the other toilets, other parking spaces and other offices, but people in wheelchairs are limited to spaces specially designed for them.

  • When shopping, watch out for people in wheelchairs and try to stand on one side of the shelf. Share the ray and walk as you drive.
  • When parking, avoid parking next to a van with a disabled person sticker that looks like it has parked away from other cars. The occupant of the van may need space on either side of the vehicle to exit a ramp to enter the vehicle with the wheelchair. Not all disabled parking spaces are designed with enough space to accommodate a ramp, which is why it is sometimes necessary for vans of this type to park further away to have enough space.
Interact with a Person Who Uses a Wheelchair Step 6

Step 3. Offer to help, but don't assume someone in a wheelchair needs it

If you see a situation where a person in a wheelchair might need your help, suggest it to them first. Do not be offended if this person refuses your help, they may be very independent. For example, if you see a person in a wheelchair approaching an entrance, you can ask them, "Would you like me to open the door for you?" If you see that she is having trouble climbing a ramp, you might ask her, "Would you like some help pushing your chair?""

Never move a disabled person's wheelchair without their permission. Maybe she put it in a position to sit up or stand up more easily

Part 3 of 3: stay polite

Interact with a Person Who Uses a Wheelchair Step 7

Step 1. When you meet a person in a wheelchair for the first time, shake their hand as you would anyone else

A handshake helps establish a physical connection which reduces psychological barriers to emotional connection. Even in cases where that person has a prosthesis, it is generally okay to shake their hand.

If that person isn't able or unwilling to shake your hand, they'll probably politely decline. Don't take it the wrong way, this rejection is probably related to the physical act itself and has nothing to do with you

Interact with a Person Who Uses a Wheelchair Step 8

Step 2. Talk about mundane things as you would anyone else

Don't choose your words to avoid references to walking or running. If you try to avoid phrases like "it works" you are likely to make the conversation very weird. Most people in wheelchairs don't find it offensive.

As with any other conversation, if the person tells you that they would prefer to avoid certain sentences, you can politely accede to their request

Interact with a Person Who Uses a Wheelchair Step 9

Step 3. Avoid making comments or jokes about that person's wheelchair

People in wheelchairs usually have to endure a lot of teasing. Even if it starts with goodwill, your joke could be boring. Some remarks only draw attention away from that person and redirect them to their wheelchair.

If this person makes jokes about their wheelchair, you might join them, but you should never start


  • Do not step on the feet of the person in the wheelchair. Just because she no longer uses them to walk does not mean that they are no longer part of their body.
  • Never leave your caddy in the car park and even less on or near a disabled space.
  • Treat everyone who uses any device to travel the same way you would treat anyone else.
  • Make eye contact with the person in the wheelchair when talking to them. The ideal would be to put yourself on her level by sitting down next to her.


  • If you don't know this person personally, don't ask them why they are in a wheelchair. It could be seen as rude and a lack of tact. However, if you get to know someone in a wheelchair, don't be afraid to ask them the question at an appropriate time.
  • You might sound rude and condescending when referring to the person in the wheelchair only talking about their wheelchair.
  • Since the wheelchair, like glasses, is an extension of that person, you should treat them as such. Don't touch it or try to push it, unless she gives you permission to do so.
  • Do not speak of people in wheelchairs as “disabled” or “sick”.

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