Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wheelchair Ettiquette

I took my sweet mamma Christmas shopping today.  Living in a nursing home, she relishes every minute spent outside of it.  A trip to the mall or restaurant or park is such a treat for her.
She had a major stroke 5 years ago that left her completely paralysed on her right side.  She is amazing.  She is fiercely independant and manages a good deal of her care, even using a swiffer to maintain a spotless room.  She has had to relearn everything including eating with her left had and gaining mobility in her wheelchair. 

With an exception of losing a few words now and then, this courageous woman is right on the ball.
Spot On.
Which is why I wanted to mention a couple of things that drive people in wheelchairs crazy.
Don't get me wrong.  Most people mean well and are wonderful. Others I think are uncomfortable or just have no idea. 

1.  Please address them personally.  Even if they look like they cannot speak, it doesn't mean they don't understand.  If they don't understand, usually their caregiver will step in to interpret.
But always give it a go.

Today the waitress came over and said to me "would she like desert?".  I replied "I'm not sure. Mum  would you like desert?" (note the cue....I asked her a question, she can think for herself) to which the waitress then said "would she like more coffee?"
This is when I get snippy and say "why don't you ask HER"

2. Don't baby them. If they are an adult speak to them as you would to any adult.
  My mum doesn't do baby talk.

3. Don't raise your voice.  Their mobility is compromised not their hearing.

4. Allow a wide berth if they pass you in an aisle.  Often if they go too close to the shelves, something can get knocked over. 

5. Hold the door even if there is a wheel chair button.  Sometimes the button is beyond reach (my mum only has use of one hand) and they slam shut quite quickly.

6.  If you are a server and you get an odd request, don't point out the oddness.  Yes, we need a straw with a hot coffee and a pile of napkins sometimes. Don't need to draw attention to it.  I can't tell you the times we ask for a straw and the server says, "You want a straw with a hot coffee?".

7. Talk to your children about disabilities and why someone may only have one stiff hand or a missing leg or a droopy face.  Kids will stare at people who are different, but usually out of curiosity.
My mum doesn't interact with the world at large on a daily basis, so she simply loves it when a child waves or says hi to her.

8. Always ask if they need help to reach or get by.  I don't anyone in a wheelchair would be offended if you respect their right to say no thanks.

9. Treat them as you would every other person.  Today we were walking by the perfume counter and everyone was offered a spray except my mother.  I said to the lady "oh my mother would like a spray" to which my dear old mum (a stroke causes you to lose you inhibitions) says "it smells horrible".  The girl laughed and I bet next time she will not bypass the mobility challenged.

10.  Do not ever, ever, park your car blocking the cut in the curb leading to the entrance.  Sometimes if this area is blocked, you have to go all around to another mall entrance.  I don't even have to mention sneaking the wheelchair parking space.  We often park in a regualr space and walk a bit, but the issue is not the distance sometimes, it is that you need the wide space to transfer safely into the chair without dinging the door of a mercedes.

11.  Select gifts appropriately.  Individually wrapped chocolates for instance have to be opened with one hand and the teeth.  Not so easy.  One year someone gave my mum a sheepskin muff.  They kindly thought it would work well for her paralysed hand rather than a mitten.  My mum was horrified claiming that no one ever wears a muff and neither is she.  She then suggested we let the cat sleep on it.
People in wheelchairs just want the respect and courtesies afforded them before they were in one.
They absolutely don't want to dress differently or be treated differently.

Shopping can be tricky since I can't push the chair and a cart.  Today we bought the cat a new bed and placed it on mums lap and filled it with her shopping bits.


  1. Too bad this can't be on the front page of every newspaper. here here! Chania, just writing this will inform so many people, reach so many with an important message. Some people just don't know what to do, but would if they did, some people do, but don't bother, and some are just rude and or stupid.

    A gal swung into a handicap spot next to me today at Target. As she jumped out of her Lexus in her leopard skin tight pants and stacked heels, I said very politely "Excuse me, Are you aware you parked in a handicap zone?" She lowered her dark shades to her nose and said "what the F is it to you?" and pranced inside. I waited till she entered the store, flagged down security and told him. As I was pulling out he was headed to her car, while reporting it to inside. Take that you selfish little_____ Ya gotta love the holiday spirit and ya gotta love Vegas baby.

    and ya gotta love you for bringing this to everyone's attention. <3

    BTW to anyone who may wonder. I did check her plate and mirror for sign-age before I said something to her and I think her reply was proof enough of the situation....


  2. I often wonder if we are living in a world that lacks empathy. Sorry to hear you mother was treated with such disrespect and inconsideration.~Ames

  3. I am sooo glad you said something to that woman (old grey mare) that boils my blood.

    A little off topic but my kids were out and watched as somebody just dumped a huge load of garbage out their window, a garbage can not 10ft son approached and mentioned it...he got told to %$#$ off.

    Anyhow, thanks for posting all the courtesies we need to learn, when dealing with people in wheel chairs, it must be frustrating and humiliating.

  4. Chania
    How old is your mum? She looks cute!

  5. Bravo to you Chania for a fabulous list! I agree with every single point. Glad that you and your gorgeous Mum had a great day out. ~ Tina xx

  6. What common sense tips, but also a reminder on common courtesy and manners. How awful to be ignored like that. Glad you got out together for the day! Sonia

  7. You're so right Chania. I'd like to think that most people are just a little out of their depth when it comes to dealing with disabilities rather than obnoxious like Miss Leopardskin pants. So pleased you and your Mum had a great day together.

  8. A fine Mum, Raz. Someone really ought to have a word with the lady that charges around the pavements of Bath in an electric wheelchair, honking her little rubber-bulbed horn at anyone who doesn't get out of her way quick enough! She would not suffer patronisation!

  9. Looks like you both had a successful shopping trip. Great tips. I work with kids with additional needs and am constantly aware of how callous some people can be. I think your Mum has a wicked twinkle in her eyes, I bet she is good fun to be with.

  10. Hi Chania, I am your newest follower. I always pop over here to look at the photo challenges so I thought I better Follow at some point or another!

    I so agree with every point you made. My Mom used a wheelchair for the last two years of her life. It is amazing how many people get freaked out or flustered and lose their sense of manners when they see a wheelchair coming. Thanks for bringing attention to this.

  11. Chania Love as ALWAYS a wonderful WONDERFUL post my Friend....!!

    I LOVE seeing pics of your Mum....I click on them to make them bigger & smile at her SWEET face....I wish we were closer so I could give her a 'just because' CUDDLE....Please give her my best & tell her from me she's brightened my day 'just because'....!!

    Cheers from Oz,
    Tamarah :o)

  12. There used to be a brilliant programme here on the BBC in the UK which highlighted disability issues, it was called 'Does he take sugar?' it did a lot of good at the time to make people realise what your waitress obviously didn't - just because one bit of you doesn't work - it doesn't mean that the rest of you is also broken...

    Love that pink top too!

  13. Astonishing that this stuff still goes on. Your mum looks like she would have no problem sorting people out who misbehaved!
    And as for the 'gal' who parked in the the handicap spot...I am so glad you busted her Z. Selfish people like that need to be taught a lesson.

  14. Oh Chania, what a wonderful post! I'm so happy you and your mom were able to go out shopping together. And you are so right about how people react to those with disabilities! After my mother's stroke she was mobile but couldn't speak and people behaved in the oddest ways towards her. She was no different than anyone else, just a little less capable of doing some things.

    I had a handicapped roommate in college, and my grandmother was wheelchair bound so I understood from an early age that people are people, having a disability makes then no different than either you or me!

    Your mom is a beautiful woman and I see that she also picked up the Barefoot Contessa!!

    Kat :)

  15. Chania every time you put up a post about your mother I think what a beautiful, sweet, poised lady she is! Everything you've written makes so much sense!

  16. Wonderful advice on how to treat someone in a wheelchair - just like you would treat anyone else!

    My grandma was also paralyzed on one side after a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair. But unlike your mom, she sort of gave up on living as full a life as she could after it happened, and she didn't leave the nursing home very often.

    It's wonderful that you bring your mom out shopping, and I bet she loves every second of it :-)

    Good luck in my giveaway, and thanks for helping spread the word :-)

  17. Chania, thank you for all of those ideas and observations! My mother was wheelchair confined for the last four years of her life. What an eye-opener that was. Your points are spot on, especially the "talking down" business. These suggestions would also be helpful for those who have a wheelchair bound person in their care. I have observed many times those in the chair facing a wall or something equivalent while their attendant took care of whatever business was at hand. It's an adjustment on everyone's part and I appreciate you voicing all these points. Ann

  18. This was wonderful !
    I also wish that this were published in all newspapers... there are so many people out there without a bit of common sense who need things spelled out to them .. this does it wonderfully.
    My grandmother was this tiny thing with extremely brittle bones who ended up in a wheelchair because it was just too difficult walking that much ..
    People actually crashed into the wheelchair with grocery carts !! I mean really, it's like Death Race 2000 out there when someone thinks they are going to get a bargain.
    besos to your mom :)

  19. Lovely well written post. You are so right to be thankful to have your mother. She looks like a sweet lady.

  20. Great post and I'm so glad you pointed out so many things that should really be quite obvious to everyone. I have 2 extended family members in wheelchairs and I'm always amazed at how clueless people can be. Your mum is adorable. xo

  21. Great suggestions. Your Mom sounds like one spunky lady - I love it.

  22. Most folks treat people in wheelchairs the way they do because of ignorance ... you have gone a long way with this post to give everyone who reads it the skills they need for the next time they encounter a person in a wheelchair. Many of the tips are also applicable to mothers with strollers.


I love to read each and every comment and are thrilled that you take the time to send one. Thank you so much. Chania