Wheelchair users hear plenty of comments throughout their daily lives in public. While some comments are made innocently enough, it shows the lack of knowledge in society regarding wheelchair users. People hear about myths or just don’t know much about life in a wheelchair. Below is a list of specific things wheelchair users hate hearing.
1. “l’ll Pray for You”
This comment is heard more times than people would believe. While it is originally meant to be thoughtful and kind, it isn’t always necessary. Not all wheelchair users are sick, have a disease or on their death bed. Most wheelchair users are perfectly healthy and some are Olympian athletes. As an able-bodied person, you don’t have to tell the wheelchair user that you will pray for them. But if you would like to do so, you can do it quietly.
2. "What happened to you?”
This is an extremely personal question. There are a wide range of reasons a person is in a wheelchair. Most stories are deeply private and the wheelchair user doesn’t want to spend every day of their life discussing it repeatedly with strangers. You don’t have to ask this question at all. If the wheelchair user decides they feel comfortable telling you the cause that resulted with them being a wheelchair user, they will tell you in their own time.
Generally people are thrilled to be congratulated for achievements and accomplishments. Usually this type of celebratory comment is used for graduations, new jobs, marriages and the birth of children. Some able-bodied people congratulate wheelchair users for putting their groceries on the check-out counter, as if it was kind of huge accomplishment. Don’t embarrass yourself by congratulating wheelchair users for doing everyday things.
4. “How fast does that thing go?”
There are many times that people ask this question and think they are funny. How fast does the wheelchair go? Some able-bodied people even want to race against the speed of the wheelchair. Again, don’t embarrass yourself with this type of humor or interaction. Wheelchair users are human just like you. They use a wheelchair to get around. Nobody asks you how fast your legs can go. So please refrain from asking this question.
5. “Stay Positive”
Who said the wheelchair user was depressed or sad? They live a life filled with everything you do, probably even more. Wheelchair users just get around in life a little differently compared to able-bodied people. Keep in mind that most wheelchair users remain in a chair for the rest of their lives. Most have come to terms with this fact and lead extremely happy and positive lives.
6. “I’m so glad I don’t have to be in a wheelchair”
This thought naturally goes through the minds of many people, but you don’t have to say it out loud and you certainly don’t have to say it directly to a wheelchair user. While you may be grateful that you don’t have to endure daily obstacles that wheelchair users encounter, you don’t have to express it out loud.
7. “Is your significant other in a wheelchair too?”
Assuming this is naive and shows lack of knowledge and consideration to wheelchair users. This question automatically proves that you assume that wheelchair users and able-bodied people are different and should not interact with each other, let alone date or marry. Perhaps you would feel differently if you people asked you about your partner. You most-likely would feel surprised and think “what is the importance of the question anyway?”
8. “You are too good looking for a wheelchair user”
Wheelchair users are people just like everyone else. Whether they are good looking or not should not be discussed. You wouldn’t walk up to an able-bodied stranger and say “you are good looking”. This would seem awkward and almost weird. It’s the same for wheelchair users. Being in a wheelchair does not have anything to do with physical looks.
9. “It’s good to see you are so productive”
Able bodied people often have the misunderstanding that wheelchair users can’t do anything. This is farthest from the truth. Wheelchair users live their lives and accomplish everything they set out to do. So if you see a wheelchair user coming home from work and stopping at the grocery store, just like you are, you don’t have to acknowledge that they are being productive. Verbalizing the statement “it’s good to see you are so productive” makes it sound like you are belittling the wheelchair user and assuming they can’t do anything for themselves. The next time you are in a grocery store after work, imagine if someone came up to you and said that statement. How would you feel?
10. “Do you know Brian?”
Just because you know two people who are in a wheelchair, doesn’t mean they know each other. Not all wheelchair users communicate with each other. That assumption is equivalent to assuming all able-bodied people know each other, which is nearly impossible.
11. “Can you be cured?”
Not all wheelchair users can recover or be cured of their mobility issue. Asking this question to a wheelchair user is deeply personal and intrusive, especially if you are a stranger.
12. “I had to use a wheelchair once”
Most people make this comment innocently. They generally are trying to let the wheelchair user know they identify with being in a wheelchair. But making this comment to a long-term wheelchair user is not necessary.
13. “You are inspirational”
This comment is heard too much and is a strange thing to be said. Unless the wheelchair user just accomplished a significant achievement that makes a difference in the community or world, you really shouldn’t tell someone they are inspirational just for going through life in a wheelchair.
14. “I don’t know how you do it?”
Wheelchair users don’t have a choice whether to be in a wheelchair or not. If they did, most would probably chose not to use one. Many wheelchair users are forced to embrace life and just “do it” and go forward enjoying every moment of life. Chances are you would learn how to do the same thing if you were in a similar situation as the wheelchair user.
15. “My Grandma uses a wheelchair”
While able-bodied people are just trying to find common ground with the wheelchair user, it doesn’t come out that way. When you mention a senior citizen uses a wheelchair and you are speaking to a much younger wheelchair user, it sounds like you are comparing the wheelchair user to your grandma.
The next time you have an encounter with a wheelchair user, remember these 15 things wheelchair users hate hearing. Try your best to avoid saying them. Always remember wheelchair users are people and deserve to be respected. You don’t need to feel sorry for them or treat them as if they are on their death bed. Wheelchair users are healthy, successful, productive and much more! Just think that one day you can be a wheelchair user too, how would you want to be treated?