It is well-known worldwide that wheelchair users want to be treated like everyone else. Special treatment and sorrowful looks are not usually what wheelchair people want to deal with. While some non-wheelchair users may find themselves trying to help by offering assistance or trying to say something to help the wheelchair user feel better, it can be disastrous if the wrong thing is said. You should keep some things in mind the next time you confront a wheelchair user to avoid any awkwardness or offending them in any way. Here are fifteen things you should never say to a person in a wheelchair.
1. “I’m in a rush, I only parked there for a few minutes.”
This is something that is said to wheelchair users who are waiting for a parking space and a non-wheelchair user has taken their spot. There is no reason to ever take a handicap parking spot away from those that truly need it! Your excuse of being in a rush or just taking it away from those in need for a few minutes is disrespectful and doesn’t make the person feel any better. Plus, parking in handicap spots without a valid permit can cost you a fine of up to $500 per ticket.
2. “Do you know what’s his name? He’s in a wheelchair too!”
Keep in mind that just because you have brown hair doesn’t mean you know everyone who has brown hair. The same goes for wheelchair users. All people in wheelchairs don’t know each other or belong to some secret club. Implying that a wheelchair user only associates with other wheelchair users is demeaning and ignorant.
3. “Why are you in a wheelchair?”
Asking someone, especially a stranger what happened to them that caused them to be in a wheelchair is rude. It is not only intrusive but you are asking someone to either relive an accident, illness or explain their circumstances, that most-likely they will want to keep to themselves.
4. “Can I pray for you?”
Although this question is asked with good intentions it implies, that the person needs to be prayed for. Many people who are in wheelchairs are there long-term and unfortunately prayers are not going to help the wheelchair user. It also implies that there is something wrong with the user because they are in a wheelchair.
5. “It’s good to see you out and being productive.”
This statement is unnecessary. Wheelchair users live their lives on tight schedules, running errands, working and enjoying life just like everyone else. Saying this to a wheelchair user implies that they are hermits inside their house and do not have a productive lifestyle.
6. “I had to use a wheelchair once, so I identify with what you are going through.”
This may be true. You may have spent some time in a wheelchair for one reason or another. But it was obviously a temporary situation. Being confined to a wheelchair long-term is a different situation and the user’s personal situation is most-likely different from your own.
7. “Everything happens for a reason.”
Telling a person in a wheelchair that everything happens for a reason is basically stating that they must have brought this situation upon themselves or the situation surrounding the cause of the person in the wheelchair is meant to teach them a lesson. This is a common phrase used by people on a daily basis but should be avoided if you do not want to offend anyone using a wheelchair.
8. “You are good-looking for a person in a wheelchair.”
This hurtful comment states that wheelchair people must be un-kept, have bad hygiene or must not be physically attractive. Wheelchair users are people too. Everyone is unique and beautiful in their own way whether they are in a wheelchair or not. Acting surprised that a wheelchair user is handsome or beautiful is a back-handed comment and should never be said.
9. “That’s great! You picked those things up so fast.”
Don’t act surprised or make the above comment when you see a wheelchair user pick something up off the floor. People in wheelchairs can handle a multitude of tasks easily. You don’t have to applaud them for doing normal everyday things.
10. “Can you pop a wheelie?”
This question may sound like a fun comment used to break the ice but the answer is always "no". Even if it was possible, the wheelchair user could possibly be hurt or injured. The wheelchair is part of the user’s life, it’s not a toy.
11. “You are truly inspiring.”
This statement implies that the wheelchair user is some type of hero or has achieved great things in life. At times this may be true, but you should be making a comment like this only if the person tells you they accomplished something in life that was extraordinary. Don’t tell a person in a wheelchair that they are inspiring because they are grocery shopping or doing everyday tasks and chores that everyone else does.
12. “How fast does your wheelchair go?”
While you may think this is a valid question, it is unusual. Why do you care how fast the wheelchair goes? Most power wheelchairs are capable of reaching between 4 to 8 mph. Unless you are planning to purchase the same wheelchair as the user, this question is not important.
13. “Is your partner in a wheelchair too?”
This comment will only embarrass you. Wheelchair users and non-wheelchair users are often in committed, long-term relationships and they are extremely happy. Asking this question implies that a wheelchair user can only be involved with a fellow user.
14. “I’m so glad I’m not in a wheelchair.”
While you are entitled to your opinion and freedom of speech, it is rude to say this to a person in a wheelchair. Even though you may feel this way, don’t say it out loud around a wheelchair user.
15. “I’m sure you will walk again, stay positive.”
You don’t know the wheelchair users situation and there are many reasons a person is in a wheelchair. Not all disabilities or causes can be wished away with positive thoughts and a great attitude. Unless you are a physician that can scientifically back-up your comment and prove that the user can truly walk again, do not say this to any wheelchair user.
Always keep in mind that wheelchair users are going forward with their lives and carrying on just like everyone else in the world. Making rude comments, even if you think they are sweet, are not going to make the person in a wheelchair magically feel better or get up and start walking. Instead of saying hurtful things from our list above, focus more on the actual person and ignore the fact that they happen to be sitting in a wheelchair. This means the next time you are on line at the grocery store or you happen to be around a wheelchair user, only say things that you would say to anyone, regardless if they are in a wheelchair or not. If you can’t say the comment to a non-user, then certainly don’t say it to a person in a wheelchair.