How to Help a Friend Adjust to Life in a Wheelchair

December 30, 2015 | 5:00 am | By Pants Up Easy


Everyone in this world deals with things differently. Let’s take a death in the family, for example. Some folks feel the need to withdraw when something like this happens, mourning alone. Others immerse themselves in activities, keeping busy so they never have time to think about it. No two people have the same personality, so how could two people handle adversity the exact same way?

However, when it comes to a change like paraplegia or another condition that can put you in a wheelchair, there are some fairly common themes. People will still process it differently, but there are certain ways to make it easier. If you have a friend or loved one who now needs to adjust to life in a wheelchair, here are some things to keep in mind:

Try to make them feel as comfortable as possible

I’m sure you’re uncomfortable, and most likely “don’t know what to do.” But this is a new situation for everyone involved – do you think your friend knows exactly what to do? So don’t focus on how unprepared you feel. Instead, try your best to put your friend at ease. Don’t feel strange about the chair and don’t go out of your way to avoid mentioning it, while also taking care not to obsess over it. I admit, it’s a bit of a balancing act. But your friend is undoubtedly craving a little normalcy, so play it cool and try to act as “normal” as you can.

Be supportive and offer help

Many long-time wheelchair users begin to resist asking for help, because they achieve a strong sense of independence in their new situation. However, in the early days, your friend will probably be much more receptive to help as they adjust. Be prepared to help in many unexpected ways, such as transferring your friend from the chair to a bed or toilet, or guiding them over tough outdoor terrain (which seems to describe most terrain in a wheelchair).

Treat them the same way you always did

One of the keys to adjusting to life in a wheelchair is to return to feeling like your “old self.” Your friend will be reminded every day of their new normal, but that doesn’t mean they want to think about it all the time. So do what you can to make your friend feel like nothing has changed. Treat them the same way you did before, and suggest similar activities. Is there a place where you often grabbed lunch together? As long as your friend is comfortable venturing out, there’s no reason not to keep visiting.

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