Around 1.2 million people in the UK are wheelchair users and this number is only expected to increase, so understanding a few simple areas of basic etiquette should benefit a lot of people.
A practical tip is to remember that for obstructions on paths and pavements, non-wheelchair users can probably just step over or round them. A wheelchair user runs far more risk of getting stuck – especially if there has been snowfall, or leaves have piled up during autumn – so thinking ahead and making sure that paths and pavements are clear and clean is essential throughout the year, not just in winter.
An assumption that non-wheelchair users often make is that for someone having to use a wheelchair it is inherently bad thing whereas from the user’s perspective it is simply a mechanical device designed to give them mobility rather than define them.
Another example of good etiquette towards wheelchair users is not to lean on or touch a wheelchair when you are talking to the user, and certainly not to start pushing it. Offer assistance, but don’t assume that it’s required and automatically act on this assumption.
When speaking to a wheelchair user, it is better to step back and talk at eye level rather than crouching down as this simply feels like talking to a small child for whom you might crouch down. And if the conversation is longer, then sit on a seat.
When meeting a wheelchair user initially, unless they volunteer the information, don’t ask them why they use one. This is personal information so regard it as you would if someone asked you a very personal question when you had only just met them.
Fundamentally, treat and talk to a wheelchair user just as you would anyone else. Trite jokes or over-familiarisation is unnecessary at best and potentially patronising at worst.
Always try to remember that inclusion should not seek to highlight differences.