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20 Things Not to Say or Do to a Someone in a Wheelchair

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As a wheelchair user, I’ve experienced quite a varied reaction from the able-bodied public, so I thought I’d share a few things you shouldn’t say or do to those of us who use wheels.

1. “I’m only parking here for five minutes.” 

No, you’re really not. It’s a disabled bay and you don’t have a permit, so get out of my space. I need this larger bay to get my wheelchair out of my car. Move.

2. “What have you done to your leg?”

Why would you ask a stranger such a personal question? It’s extremely rude and intrusive, and why assume I’m using a wheelchair because my legs don’t work?

3. “You’re too pretty to be in a wheelchair.”

Now, that’s a backhanded compliment if I’ve ever heard one. Disability doesn’t discriminate. I can still be fabulous and use a wheelchair.

4. “Can I have a go?”

Oh, of course, I’ll just go for a run while you go for a ride in my wheelchair. No. No. No.

5. Don’t speak to the person pushing me instead of me.

I have a voice, I’m an intelligent person and I can answer for myself.

6. “At least you don’t have to walk anywhere, I’m knackered.”

Yeah, because who would want to walk places and not be in agony?

7. “You’re such an inspiration.”

I never understand this one. How am I inspirational? I’m shopping for food — so inspirational.

8. “I’d rather be dead than in a wheelchair.”

Bloody hell, calm down, it’s not that bad. It takes some getting used to and it’s difficult, but surely living a life with adaptions is better than not living at all.

9. Don’t bend down to talk to me.

I’m not a child. Do you know how patronizing that is?

10. “Oh god, you can walk? What are you using that for then?”

Shock horror! We all use wheelchairs for various reasons; I use a wheelchair due to pain, fatigue and dislocations. I can’t walk that far, I can’t stand for long. Don’t assume that because someone is using a wheelchair their legs don’t work.

11. “How do you drive a car?”

I have an adapted vehicle and my legs work, just not as well as I’d like them to. Don’t look shocked when you see me getting out of my wheelchair and into the driver’s seat of a car.

12. Don’t move me out of your way.

Don’t ever think it’s OK to grab my wheelchair and move me without my consent. If I am in your way, don’t push my chair. Ask me politely and I’ll gladly make some space.

13. “Do you know Dave? He uses a wheelchair, too.”

Yes, every single person in the whole world who uses a wheelchair knows each other. How naive.

14. “I used a wheelchair when I broke my leg. I know exactly how you feel.”

You have no idea how I feel. You were wearing a plaster cast, and others would have been able to acknowledge you’ve suffered from an acute injury. You wouldn’t have experienced ableism or the grief, sadness and acceptance of having to use a wheelchair full-time.

15. Don’t pat me on the head.

Oh my days, do not do this or I will run you over. I’m not an animal; it’s so rude and patronizing.

16. “Your partner must be a saint for putting up with you in that.”

No, he’s not a saint, he’s a normal guy who loves a girl who happens to be in a wheelchair.

17. Don’t lean on my wheelchair.

It’s not worth it. I will punch you.

18. “Bloody hell, slow down or you’ll get a speeding ticket.”

What a comedian. If only your motor-mouth could get a ticket.

19. “You’re too young to be in a wheelchair.”

There’s no age limit. Wheelchairs aren’t only for the elderly; my body is broken and hates me, therefore I need this to live a “normal” life.

20. Don’t take a picture of me when I stand up from my wheelchair.

Don’t assume everyone in a wheelchair can’t walk, and do not take pictures or make memes of disabled people.

A wheelchair is freedom. It means I can go out and do things. I wouldn’t be able to walk around a shopping center; I can barely walk to my car from my house. My current wheelchair is a pacing strategy that helps me do things without excessive pain or fatigue.

A wheelchair can be used for various reasons, so please think because you say something ridiculous.

Author’s note (added Jan. 28, 2016): This post is in no way meant to offend anyone. It was directed at able-bodied, non-disabled people who have said or done these things to me and my friends who are wheelchair users. If someone had hearing difficulties, of course I wouldn’t mind them getting closer to me. Apologies if caused offense; it was not intended. 

Follow this journey at Sarah in Wonderland.

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Originally published: January 21, 2016
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