How Not to Talk to a Wheelchair User

December 23, 2015 | 5:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

Now that the holidays are upon us, you’re probably going to be spending a lot of time with extended family – too much time, for some of us. Sure, your mom is probably sweet, but we all have that aunt or uncle with the indefensible political positions or wildly inappropriate language. The kind of person you “can’t take anywhere.” Sort of like the Drunk Uncle character on Saturday Night Live. Although probably not as humorous…

Civilized folks know that there are just certain things that shouldn’t be said in polite company or to certain audiences. But the right course of action isn’t always clear. For instance, if you are friends with a wheelchair user, you might have a hard time communicating with them. Perhaps you’re afraid of saying something awkward, or accidentally making a negative comment regarding their condition or the wheelchair.

Well, for all of those unsure of what to say, we have good news. We present a guide on how not to talk to a wheelchair user:

They don’t want your pity

Unless your wheelchair-bound friend is George Costanza, they’re not really interested in pity. Many wheelchair users pride themselves on their self-sufficiency, and will get downright offended if you feel sorry for them. So don’t take pity. If you want to sincerely offer help, that’s fine – but if your help is declined, respect that.

They don’t need you to remind them they’re in the chair

Trust me: they’re not going to forget. But aside from being self-reliant, wheelchair users also don’t want to be treated differently from everybody else. How many times per day do you think they’re reminded about how different their lifestyles are? The last thing they want is for you to emphasize that. So just treat them like everybody else.

Some of them have a great sense of humor about it – but not all

It’s natural for people to turn to humor when they’re faced with a tough situation, and this is a common occurrence among those with disabilities. Because when you’re faced with adversity, sometimes all you can do is laugh. However, it’s imperative that you evaluate this on a case-by-case basis. A friend in a wheelchair might love it if you bust their chops about the chair; while others could be deeply offended.


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