August 21, 2015 Our Circle of Moms
In Advice, Family, Sue Anganes

By: Sue Anganes 

Ray and JillWhat is it about someone in a wheelchair that makes people uncomfortable? Why do they assume that just because a person isn’t walking that it must mean that they can’t think or speak either?

We ran into a situation a couple of weeks ago where my seventeen year old son, who happens to use a wheelchair, was basically pushed into a corner of an elevator by a complete stranger. My husband had the day off so we decided to spend the day at the Boston Museum of Science.  My son’s girlfriend was in town so she came along with us. The parking garage elevators are huge there. We stepped into the elevator which had one other woman in it, and the woman proceeded to grab my son’s chair and rolled him backwards into the corner. It all happened so fast we didn’t even have time to respond or react. My son, who is always polite, just grabbed his wheels and said in a firm voice, “I’m fine! I’m fine!” as he was being dragged backwards.

I was amazed that the event even transpired. My son had wheeled himself into the elevator on his own and his supermodel-esque girlfriend was right beside him. Surely he would not need any “assistance” from a stranger, and surely he did not belong shoved into a corner.

What is proper etiquette when you come across kids, or anyone, using a wheelchair?

Here are a few observations from my experience with my son:

– Say hello- Kids using chairs are social-or- maybe they are not social, but you can still say “hi”. They are individuals like everyone else.

– Address the child or person using the chair, not the people with them. – “What would he like from the menu?” Umm… I don’t know, maybe ask him!

– Don’t help push the person unless asked to do so. I’ve jokingly told my son to yell, “I’m being kidnapped!” from now on and see how fast the pusher lets go!

– If the chair is sitting unoccupied, don’t hop in and try to take it for a joy- ride. That chair was fit specifically for the person who uses it and can often cost as much as a car! You wouldn’t hop into someone’s car and take it for a spin without asking, would you?

– Be yourself. If you really want to know why the person is using a chair, ask. Usually the individual doesn’t mind explaining why. Often it’s a young child who will ask, “Can you walk?” Don’t be embarrassed by your child’s curiosity. Address the question to the person in the chair and start a conversation! Kids are naturally curious and that’s okay.

My son likes history, he loves his girlfriend, he doesn’t like pork chops, he programs computers, and he shoots archery very well. Oh, and he also uses a wheelchair.


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