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Helpful tips when talking to wheelchair users and disabled people

This blog is my collection of tips when speaking and interacting with disabled people. I wanted to check out with disabled friends and bloggers on their views and opinions, to make sure I was giving a fair and broad opinion. I wanted it to be a post that reflects most disabilities, and as I don't have a visual or hearing impairment I have asked others with these disabilities for their input, as well as those with mobility problems.

Hannah, a young woman with curly aburn hair and glasses sitting in her powerchair by the river. She is wearing a leather jacket, a mustard flowery scarf and black leggings.
Hannah sitting in her wheelchair

The main point that sums up everything is: Treat us and talk to us you would to able bodied people.

 -Talk to us. Not the person who is with us. 

-Don't treat us as if we are simple or stupid. Just because part of our body doesn't work or we use a wheelchair doesn't mean our brain doesn't work.

-Please don't stare.

-Don't be afraid to talk to us and ask questions, except please don't ask what is wrong with us and whether we will ever walk again. It is such a personal question. Especially, as the first or second question.

-Disabled people like able bodied people have ambitions, they just have additional barriers and challenges to overcome. For me that makes their success all the more amazing/remarkable.
-Please don't say they have only achieved 'x' because of their disability, we have to work twice as hard, to achieve half as much and it is normally on our own merit.

-Most disabled people who use a wheelchair would prefer to be referred to as a wheelchair user not wheelchair bound as the terminology makes people think they are strapped or tied to their wheelchair-which we are not!

-I hate it when people refer to me as a wheelchair. I am not a wheelchair. I am a person. I just happen to need to use a wheelchair. 

-Sometimes people say that I am too young, pretty or intelligent to be disabled. Or it is a shame I am disabled as I am so pretty. Unfortunately, disability does not go on looks, age or intelligence! It also makes me think are they saying it would not be a shame if I wasn't any of the above?

-Some people say they would be never seen in a wheelchair-perhaps they should consider that some don't have the choice. For me, my wheelchair enables me, not disables me. 👇Click here: My Wheelchair: Is it disabiling or enabling?

-Don't assume all disabled people are the same/affected in the same way, see beyond our disability to us as people.

-Please don't put things on my wheelchair or take them off before asking, don't lean on my wheelchair or push my wheelchair without asking. Although I am a person, my wheelchair is almost part of me. Without it I couldn't get around, it is my personal space and I depend on it. It is not an object for others to lean on. Can you imagine if I went and stood right next to someone else and lent on them!

-Please don't just push a manual wheelchair user out of your way, can you imagine if someone just went along and physically moved a person out of their way. People would be outraged, or maybe even prosecuting for assault! Why do people think the equivalent is acceptable to do to disabled people?

-Don't assume what a disabled person can do-ask them and respect their answer.

A image of four disability symbols. A person sitting in a wheelchair, a head highlighting the brain, two hands with the thumb and index finger touching and a person with a stick or cane.
Disabled people 
 
Below are some points from other disabled people:

Lucinda Ritchie 
'Talk to wheelchair user/disabled person directly. I’m Nil by Mouth but in the past I have had people asking other people if I would like a drink, which was kind.

Don’t be scared of the person. We are still human. A lot of wheelchair users / disabled people don’t mind answering questions

In everyday lives people may say ‘let’s go for a walk’ or ‘let’s sit down'. Wheelchair users / disabled people understand this is just everyday language and are unlikely to get upset about it. We know what the phrase means.

Remember that physical disability does not stop us from understanding conversations. Please talk to us at a suitable level and let us join in with conversations.

Please don’t assume that we all need help. We will ask for assistance if needed. 

Before my condition deteriorated I was at a rescue place in Dorset with my family (we have been there many times). As I was getting tired on my crutches we booked a mobility scooter. An elderly lady started talking to my parents and sister, whilst totally ignoring me. At the end she turned to me and said ‘are you having a good day and enjoying the monkeys’, but in a way you would talk to a young child. So I responded and said that I was having a good day and went into a lot of detail about the particular monkey group we were by. We had adopted one of the monkeys on that particular group so I explained about the chimp. By the end she was asking me more detailed questions. Her family then joined her and started asking questions.'

Pippa- (Life of Pippa)
My tip for you: “If you’re going to make a well-intentioned wheelchair joke, at least try and make it an original one. If we all had a penny for how many times we’ve heard the speeding ticket or driving test or *don’t run me over* wisecracks, we’d have enough money to purchase a large steamroller and cover the legal fee. Just saying…”

Adam Pearson
'When talking to disabled people, remember that’s what they are, people. We aren’t pets, fictional characters taking rings to mount doom or damaged genius trying to kill Batman. We communicate in the exact same ways as our non disabled counterparts.
Also, as basic as this sounds, a large part of communication is listening. If you aren’t listening to disabled people how on earth to you expect to be able to integrate them into society?'

Richard Luke
'I hate the racing drive quote:“Good morning Lewis Hamilton.”  I’m a wheelchair user not a racing driver.'

Lisa- (aliesha.com)
'Don’t ask “So what have you done to yourself then?” It might seem like a good icebreaker but it implies the person has caused their own disability and is intrusive. Not everyone wants to explain their disability and especially not to a stranger.'

Ami Ireland- (Undercover Superhero)
'Don't touch. Respect our personal space. Just because we sit lower than you does not mean we are less of a person. We are equal.
I think the one thing that really irritates me, alongside the unnecessary touching, is when people bend down, whilst resting their hands on their knees and getting right in my face - its patronising and it comes across that the person is treating me like a child. As soon as the person I'm with says I'm deaf or I can't see long distance, they automatically assume they need to get in my face and shout. I offer wonder if deaf people are better listeners 🤔'

'Include us in conversations, introduce yourself, talk to us directly, be mindful of questions you’re asking, give detailed descriptions/directions, don’t change your vocabulary when talking to us, talk to us like you would anyone else.'

'As a vision impaired person, I feel the most relaxed and comfortable when people talk to me as they would with anyone else, you don’t need to change the language you use, we say things like ‘watch’, ‘look’ and ‘see’ just like you do. One tip I would give however is to say the person’s name when directing a question or comment towards them in a group situation. I’m often left wondering if someone is talking to me or not when we’re amongst a handful of people since I can’t see them looking at me, so saying my name or tapping my arm takes any confusion away.'

Overall, as I said in my TEDx talk closing comment: next time you speak to a disabled person try and look beyond their disability. They are just like you. 

Hannah x

Thank you to all those who have inputed to this blog post. It is very much appreciated!

Comments

  1. That's a great post. I would add that as a blind person who is also partially deaf, don't assume that everyone with a disability has support available on demand to do everything for us. We don't, and I personally find it annoying when people say "Don't you have a carer?" If we do have support workers and we are in a group situation, don't assume that you don't have to talk to us because we have support workers to talk to us, or that somebody else will talk to us. In fact, if I'm with a support worker, and there are situations where people are mingling, I often ask them to leave me so I can mingle myself. In short, I'd say, don't place a somebody else's problem field around us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Samuel, I am glad you thought it was a great post-thank you! That is very true and good points you have made. Thank you. Hannah x

      Delete
  2. people never see the every day effects .there views .judgements are very Snotty Nosed .i am disabled have m.e .long list health issues .i take part in a lot lot research
    my blog.,http;//mark-kent.webs.com
    twitter,supersnopper

    mark

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Mark,
      That is so true people don't see the effects. I suppose it is a lack of knowledge and understanding. That is great that you participate in a lot of research. I will have a look at your blog :)
      Best wishes, Hannah x

      Delete
  3. I AM ABOUT TOO BE CO-AUTHOR OF A BOOK .Publishers have passed it .book has a title
    just waiting for news of when book will be published
    book is about ,Disability and Ses

    i am on Linkedin,AutismDad


    mark

    ReplyDelete

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