Tips for Interacting With People Who Use Wheelchairs

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Thanks to Lila Kempers, a Church Disability Advocate in Iowa, for sending this list of things to keep in mind when interacting with someone who uses a wheelchair:

  1. Focus on the person and not on his/her disability.
  2. Always ask the person who uses the wheelchair if he/she would like assistance as some may not need or want the assistance.
  3. Do not hang or lean on the person’s wheelchair, as it invades the person’s space.
  4. When talking with a person who uses the wheelchair, consider sitting down to be at eye level.

And while we're at it, here's our list of tips for interacting with people with mobility impairments from our Inclusion Handbook. You'll see some overlap with Lila's list:

  • Assist people in wheelchairs to be as independent as possible by helping them only when they request it. If they appear to need help, ask before helping.
  • If it is necessary to transport a person in a wheelchair up or down stairs, lift only where and how you are instructed to lift. It is easy to tip people out of their wheelchairs. Their disabilities often prevent them from protecting themselves, and the end result could be serious injury.
  • If you are going to converse for a fair amount of time (two minutes or more) with someone in a wheelchair, try to seat yourself so you are talking at eye level.
  • Make sure you speak directly to the person in the wheelchair and not just to the able-bodied companion who may be there too.
  • If you are planning an outing, make sure that the destination is barrier-free to avoid embarrassment for people who use wheelchairs or have other special needs.

If you would like even more information . . . Lila sent me this Safety Checklist for transporting people who use wheelchairs. Some of these items assume that the person using the wheelchair cannot do the task him or herself. 

  1. Check equipment for proper working conditions. Make sure safety straps are not frayed or broken. In addition, be careful that the person’s feet are on the footrests.
  2. Always park the vehicle so that the wheelchair lift can be lowered to a flat area that is away from traffic flow and not obstructed by branches, sign posts, or other items.
  3. Remember to restrict personnel movements near the lift to reduce the risks of injury from the lift platform.
  4. During loading, move the wheelchair completely on the platform with the passenger’s hands and arms in his or her lap to avoid injuries.
  5. During the lowering and raising of the occupied lift, there should be one person standing by the lift to prevent accidents.
  6. Set both wheelchair brakes and fasten the safety belts before raising or lowering the lift into or out of the van.
  7. Always lock the wheelchair brakes 1) when leaving the person unattended, 2) when helping a person transfer into or out of the wheelchair.
  8. When going through a doorway with a threshold, it is best to go backwards to prevent the rider from falling out. 
Posted in:
  • Disability Concerns > Congregational Care
  • Resource > Checklist
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