The wheelchair is a very personal piece of equipment. It is the means of mobility for people who cannot walk. Most users treat it with respect. Truly, it is one of the most important implements for people with mobility problems. It enhances the lives of millions of people around the world, not only that of the users but the carers of the users as well.
Just like there are social etiquettes, there are etiquettes related to interacting with wheelchair users too. The Wheelchair Etiquette was based on Ric Garren in the Challenge Magazine. Firstly, the space around the wheelchair should be respected like how we respect the personal space of the people around us. I have had friends and strangers who invade this space by resting their feet on the push rims and happily shaking their legs away. Imagine the discomfort of sitting in a chair that is being shaken vigorously.
Always ask first before providing assistance to wheelchair users. Sometimes it may not be needed. Most people who offer to help mean well but handling a wheelchair the wrong way may endanger both the user and the helper. The armrests and legrests of many wheelchairs are detachable. Therefore it is best to ask where to hold when there is a need to lift the wheelchair over barriers or up the stairs.
When speaking to a disabled person, always speak to him directly instead of through his personal assistant or carer. Most wheelchair users have faced similar situations. It is annoying wanting to buy something only to have the sales staff asking the personal assistant as if the disabled persons cannot speak for himself. Likewise if a conversation is going to last more than a few minutes, it is only polite to continue talking at eye level by either sitting down or kneeling to prevent the wheelchair user from having to maintain an uncomfortable posture.
Lastly, having to use a wheelchair is not a tragedy. I have met politicians exclaiming “Oh my God!” after being told that I have been using a wheelchair for twenty two years. The wheelchair is just another mode of mobility much like the bicycle. On the other hand, it is a real tragedy that most local authorities do not see the need and urgency to create a barrier-free environment in their respective municipalities although there are legislations and standards to deal with this issue. This non-action has greatly limited the mobility of wheelchair users in public places. Perhaps these municipal officials are in dire need of learning the etiquettes on how to be effective public servants.