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Tips to remember while interacting with a person on a wheelchair

All of us has a unique story to tell, and that includes a person with a disability, who is a wheelchair user. Now, when you have a close friend or family member who uses a wheelchair, chances are you have a certain comfort level and know how to interact with him/her. When you meet someone new, there are some questions you may want to ask and this is when etiquette matters. It is highly important you interact with him/her like you do with anyone else and avoid special treatment. Else you may end up looking awkward and worse causing offence.

Anjurani Joy an actor and entrepreneur from Kerala, who uses a wheelchair, says first and foremost avoid judging someone based on their disability. This comes across in small ways, like making disability the topic when you meet someone the first time.

They ask things like how did we start using a wheelchair and how we do our daily tasks. For a wheelchair user, doing their daily tasks is just like how any other person does it. I do not mind answering questions about all this. But at least start off by getting me and letting me get to know you before you shoot off such questions. - -Anjurani Joy, Actor and Entrepreneur

Another thoughtful suggestion Joy has is to sit down and interact with a wheelchair user. "Sometimes the neck hurts when you have to keep looking up at one person".

So, here are some broad rules for engaging with someone who is a wheelchair user when you meet the first time.

  • Do not assume - Most people tend to think that a wheelchair user cannot do things on their own. Not every person on a wheelchair is paralysed. They use it for various reasons. It can be due to an accident, an injury or a heart condition.
  • Do not lean on the wheelchair - The wheelchair is an essential part of a user's life. Some people tend to lean on it while interacting with a wheelchair user and this is absolutely not done. For one, this is a violation of their private space and two, it can cause back pain and other related problems the user. Respect the space.
  • Do not offer help unless asked - Many people assume that a wheelchair user needs help to do things. Everyone appreciates help, but wheelchair users have been doing things independently. It might look at times that they are struggling to do certain things, but offer help if asked.
  • Talk normally - When you interact with a wheelchair user, chance are high that you become cautious about what say, and avoid certain words and phrases. But talk normally. Like ask them if they want to go for a walk. But being over careful can make you sound stilted and that can be irritating.

"Respecting space is very important", feels Preetha Thonnakkal. "Avoid touching or leaning because this can feel uncomfortable and even damage the wheelchair".

So, remember to be like our regular self. Act normal.

ALSO READ: Some driving tips for people with disabilities

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