Here are 8 things to avoid saying to a person in a wheelchair:
“I had to use a wheelchair for a while once, so I know exactly what you’re going through.”
The truth is, you have no idea how that other person feels. You may have spent some time in a wheelchair for a number of different reasons but, you wouldn’t have experienced ableism or the grief, sadness, and acceptance of having to use a wheelchair full-time for the rest of your life. Most likely this was a temporary situation. While it may have been difficult for you to adjust, this still does not give a special insight into the other person’s life.
“I was only parked there for a minute.” /“I’m only parking here for 5 minutes.”
This is a common thing that is said to wheelchair users a non-wheelchair user has taken their spot. There is no reason to ever take a handicap parking spot away from those that truly need it. Being in a rush or just taking it away from those in need for a few minutes is no excuse and is very disrespectful to the other person who actually needs it. Parking in handicap spots without a valid permit can cost you a fine of up to $500 per ticket.
“You’re too pretty to be in a wheelchair” /“You are good-looking for a person in a wheelchair.” /“But you’re so young!”
There’s a huge misconception that people in wheelchairs are unattractive or sloppy. If you’re going to compliment someone, leave the wheelchair out of it. These are backhanded compliments. Disability doesn’t discriminate. There’s no age limit or a certain level of attractiveness.
Wheelchairs aren’t only for the elderly. Some people conflate disability with age, considering it a natural part of aging. But the reality is that anything can happen to anyone at any time, no matter how old they may be or how they may look.
“Do you know what’s his name? He’s in a wheelchair too!”
All people in wheelchairs don’t know each other and are not a part of a secret club. To assume that a wheelchair user only associates with other wheelchair users can be seen as ignorant and demeaning.
“Why are you in a wheelchair?” /“What happened to you?” /“What have you done to your leg?”
Seeing someone using a wheelchair to get around is not an invitation to ask an individual about their medical history. There are many different reasons that a person may be using a wheelchair and may be difficult or too complicated to explain. Be considerate to the fact that asking these types of questions may make the other person uncomfortable or triggered. Don’t be intrusive, if they want to tell you their story, they will when they are comfortable to do so.
“Everything happens for a reason”
A statement like this is basically telling a person that they are in a wheelchair because of something that they have done to themselves. Sometimes things happen that do not require a purpose. While this is a common phrase used on a daily basis, this is one of those things to avoid saying to someone in a wheelchair if you don’t want to offend them.
“I’m so glad I’m not in a wheelchair” /“I’d rather be dead than in a wheelchair.”
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but saying this to someone in a wheelchair is rude.
“Do you really need that chair?” /“Oh god, you can walk? What are you using that for then?”
One shouldn’t question or make assumptions about another’s body or abilities.
People use wheelchairs for many different reasons. They enable freedom of mobility. You don’t want to accidentally offend someone. Of course you may be curious. We are all curious by nature. But this doesn’t give you or anyone the right to make insensitive statements.
Remember, people who use wheelchairs are really no different from you. So be respectful and avoid making presumptions about others’ abilities. Be considerate of the other person and understand the difficulty of navigating a wheelchair in public.