A lot of things many experts convey about how one should interact with people around them because these social interactions and our effectiveness in handling them are what defines our personality. Not sure how many of you must be remembering it.
Still, around the early 2000s, the national channel DD-1 of Doordarshan showed an ad about how one should interact with wheelchair users. More generally, any of the differently-abled. If we have to mention it in short, then the announcement clearly stated that these people are just as healthy as all of us and hence do not deserve any special treatment. Of course, they have specific personal needs. Treating them differently all the time will downplay their confidence and personalities.
Being a wheelchair and mobility solution provider ourselves, at Arcatron, we felt that somebody had to call out or rather lay down the points one should take care of while interacting with any such person who uses a wheelchair. We felt that it is essential to point out the multiple things which we end up doing- knowingly or unknowingly, that can eventually have adverse effects on the wheelchair user’s psyche — writing this blog with the same theme in our mind.
So, here we are listing out a few dos and don’ts so that the next you talk to someone like that, you act as if they are an equal human too!
It seems pretty surprising and sad, but people do tend to lean unnecessarily to get at the same height. This height comparison needs to stop & if you want to sit and talk at their level, please pull a chair and relax.
Another weird one, just because you aren’t at their level, and their head is at a more comfortable position for your hand to reach, do not pat them on their head. It is downright demeaning. A pat on the back though- that would be appreciated
Do not lean on the wheelchair or using wheelchair as a trolly to put your stuff. Consider it as a part of the user’s body and act accordingly. Such activity is not a good etiquette to have around wheelchair users.
Make communication directly with the user. They are no kid that their attendant or guardian has to speak for them. Give them that respect that they have power over their life.
Do not unnecessarily get into a caregiver mode, least of all, do not show unwanted sympathy. They are having a tough time already, making them feel that they are missing out on something that shouldn’t even be the last thing to do.
Also, do not shower them with appreciation about how strong they are or how well they are handling stuff. The people are trying to lead a healthy life, so a constant reminder of their weakness is not going to be appreciated.
Which, brings us to the fact that some wheelchair users have one or another part of their body either paralyzed or not so sensitive. Hence, avoid getting too touchy. You may shake hands if you have seen that they have decent hand movement. Also, never assume what they can or cannot do. The best part thus is to let them lead & you observe.
You must be a bit sensitive and cautious about the words you use around them. Try not to say, let us run and then end with an awkward pause. It would be better if you say it and go ahead or do not say at all.
The usual rules of courtesy apply to them too. Please take care of that. But, when it is their turn, do cut them some slack. It is only human
We need to understand that wheelchair users are humans who have a hurdle to cross every day. They are putting up a brave face and trying to be as casual as possible, appreciate them for it, but do not overdo this appreciation so much that it starts sounding like a sympathy. A wheelchair does not restrict people from achieving their dreams. These people excel at their work, play sports, read, enjoy, indulge. Be a good companion for them!
PS: Asking for a “go on the wheelchair” isn’t a good idea. No matter how frank you are with them!