Six Things Wheelchair Users Never Want To Hear You Say

July 18, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

It should go without saying that wheelchair users want to be treated just like everyone else. However, despite a strong push through education and legislation to increase sensitivity towards people with disabilities, it can still be awkward and uncomfortable to see someone confined to a wheelchair, and mistakes are often made. In this blog, we tell you a lot about things that you can do to help wheelchair users. Now let’s look at a few things that you should never, ever say to someone in a wheelchair.

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

There’s a reason for those “handicapped” reserved parking spaces, and you know it well. Also, chances are that you’re going to be there longer than just five minutes. Have some consideration. Wheelchair users have appointments too, and it takes them longer to get around than it does you. Park where you’re supposed to, and take the extra walk. The wheelchair user would be happy to do the same…if they were able to.

  1. “What happened to you?”

Don’t expect that every wheelchair user you meet is ready to open up to you and tell you all about their disabilities. Even among those that do, this is not an ideal way to start a conversation. You can come up with a better icebreaker than that.

  1. “You’re really pretty for someone in a wheelchair.”

It’s shocking, but this is one that many female wheelchair users hear. It seems to reveal a stereotype, that people with disabilities are expected to be sloppy or unattractive. Of course this is not the case. Disabilities and injuries don’t discriminate on the basis of looks, and I’ve seen some very attractive people, both male and female, who had to use a wheelchair. If you’re truly paying the person a compliment, please leave the wheelchair out of it.

  1. “I had to use a wheelchair once. I know what you’re going through.”

Sorry, but the two weeks you spent in a wheelchair when you broke your leg skiing are simply not the same as going through life that way. The wheelchair user dealing with an incurable spinal cord injury knows that. You’re not winning any points with them by making this shallow and inaccurate comparison.

  1. “Do you know {so and so}? He’s also in a wheelchair.”

What? You can’t really be that naive, can you? No, wheelchair users aren’t all part of a community of folks that know each other, any more than people with the same eye color do. This is just ignorant and demeaning. 

  1. “You’re an inspiration to us all.”

This comment implies that the person you’re addressing has achieved a great accomplishment. It may be true, but don’t say this unless the person has told you that they’ve actually done something extraordinary. You may mean well, but it sounds condescending to make such a comment to someone who’s just trying to buy their groceries for the week.

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