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Wheelchair etiquettes matter. Here is how to follow them.

When you come across a wheelchair user, there are many thoughts that come to your mind. How do I approach them? Will any of my statements offend them? Is it OK to ask them about how they started using a wheelchair? Well, these are some of the most common ones. Definitely, there are some wheelchair etiquettes that everyone must follow. They make your interaction and bond with a wheelchair user better and deeper.

Primarily, understand that a wheelchair user is not different in any ways just because they use a device for mobility. They have their own unique stories about how they started using one. The main problem is that people around us are not aware of disabilities. Hence, they clearly do not know how to handle a situation when a disabled person is around them. All wheelchair users want them to be treated equally. Discriminating them only makes you look awkward and weird when you are in a crowd.

Since I live in a small town in Kerala, people are not aware of disabilities here. So when I meet someone new and they start a conversation, they begin by asking me questions about my wheelchair. Well, I'am OK with answering. But sometimes I find it weird too. Being a woman on a wheelchair, there are quite a few challenges. Like for instance, some men come forward to help you without even asking. They lift you from your wheelchair even before you give them permission. Once, I had to ask the person to put me back on the wheelchair. I do not know if they have good or bad intentions. But getting my permission before touching me is very important-Preetha Thonnakkal, Wheelchair user from Kerala

Here are some wheelchair etiquettes that you must follow when you meet a new person who is on a wheelchair

  • Greet with a handshake- We all love to be greeted in a decent manner. The best way is to give a handshake. It does not matter whether the person is using an artificial limb or not, all people prefer having a handshake when they meet a new person. Do not hesitate to go forward and introduce yourselves.
  • It is OK to use words and phrases- This is one of the most common ones that occur often. When you are around a wheelchair user, you do not really know what words and phrases to use or whether it is going to offend them. For instance, you talk about how we have to 'walk to the other side'. But you think whether it is going to be offensive for the wheelchair user. In fact, they clearly understand that you do not mean it in a negative connotation. What makes it awkward is if you stop your sentence in between. So let yourself be and use terms and phrases that you are comfortable in the conversation.
  • Do not lean on wheelchair- For a wheelchair user, their wheelchairs are an integral part of their lives. It helps them to freely move around and explore the world better. So clearly, it has an emotional connection. Some people, when they meet a wheelchair user for a first time, tend to lean on to their wheelchairs while having conversations. This is the last thing that a wheelchair user would appreciate. So if you want to have a conversation, stand straight, look them into the eyes and talk. Clearly, stay away from their wheelchairs.
  • Offer help only when asked- Wheelchair users are independent people. They handle their daily tasks without hassles just like a person without a disability. But of course, they appreciate help when needed. But do not offer them help unless they ask you to. Offer your assistance if you see that they are struggling with something and wait. If they agree, then lend a helping hand.

"One of the most awkward things that I have noticed is that people look at wheelchair users in a very depressing manner. Like, our lives are a struggle. Clearly, it is not. Wheelchair users are independent and have learnt how to go about doing things on their own. When I go to the super market, strangers come and ask me why I had to come. Instead, I could have sent someone. Similarly, when I go to mosque, people come and tell me you should have prayed from home. I agree people are unaware of disabilities. But it is high time to become sensitive to people with disabilities', says Mohammed Rabeeh, wheelchair user from Kerala

ALSO READ: Some tips to boost self-esteem for people with disabilities

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