Wheelchair Pushing Etiquette

Every now and then I find myself out in public being pushed in my manual wheelchair by someone else. This chair is usually only used if I'm out somewhere with friends and needed them to drive me (manual wheelchairs fold into trunks easier than power chairs), or if I am somewhere that might not be accessible (these chairs are far lighter and easier to lift than power chairs). I didn't get my power wheelchair until I was in the fifth grade so I had been dependent on other people pushing me for at least 10 years or so as a young child.
Manual wheelchairs are not my favorite because they can easily tip over outside, and when I am using one it means that I am dependent on someone else to get around. Along with that it also means that I am at the mercy of that individual's wheelchair pushing skills. Some people are great at maneuvering me, their instinct and sensitivity for knowing just how much to tilt back to get over a curb cut is superb. Other people may carelessly bump me into door frames, or they do not realize that my small wheels don't just roll over pot holes in the same manner a car may be able to. But all of that doesn't usually bother me, and if it becomes an issue I usually help to guide the chair by putting my hands on the wheels when bumps or cracks in the sidewalk come nearer. This way I don't feel rude and it is an alternative to saying "hey, if I fall flat on my face because you don't see that bump my next fractures are going to be on your hands!"
What bothers me is the way people who push wheelchairs treat the person in the chair; usually it is quite unintentional and these mannerisms are totally oblivious to the pusher. Please note that what I list below are only things that bother me, and should not be applied to every single person in a wheelchair :

1. If you are talking to someone, even if that person is not addressing the person you are pushing in the wheelchair - turn the wheelchair to face the person you are talking to as well! One time this failed to happen and my friend ended up having a 10min+ long conversation with someone else as I sat there angled in a different direction, trying to find the crowd of teenagers at the mall to be totally engrossing. There have been many occasions when this has happened and after awhile I begin to feel like a wheelbarrow being shoved along, not a person who is actually there.

2. As many of us know not every single place in the world is wheelchair accessible. If the chair needs to be set aside while someone else runs inside the store or restaurant, avoid leaving the wheelchair in some remote or isolated place. When I was younger this happened quite frequently. I would be parked in some corner while my parents ran in to pick-up a lunch order or went to go return something; these errands would always be done "quickly" and I was always told "I'll be right back, just sit here." Obviously I'm just going to sit there, I'm not about to take off and soar into the clouds. If you're waiting in an isolated place what seems like 2-3 minutes can seem like hours; as a kid I used to dream up scenarios where my parents had actually left me there never to return again!

3. Ask if I would like to pace around with you. It's quite common to forget that you are pushing a wheelchair with an individual in it who is a totally separate entity from you. There have been times when suddenly I find myself going up and down corridors, or being swiftly jerked around corners and speeding at a breathless pace down hallways. Just because you are pacing around it doesn't mean the person you are pushing needs to as well. Or just because you want to chase after your friend  don't assume that the person you are pushing wants to join in on the wind sprint as well.

4. Talk to me not above me. Chances are if you're pushing me you probably tower over me. This doesn't mean it's appropriate to speak over my head if you are addressing me; I have frequently gotten confused when people do this because I am not sure if they are speaking to someone around me or actually speaking to me. This behavior along with my hearing loss adds to many communications confusions.

Take-away Thoughts on Pushing Etiquette:

  • Just remember that the person you are pushing is exactly that, a person. If you are uncertain of how you should treat the situation just remind yourself of this and do what is most natural to you.
  • If you're the person IN the wheelchair: begin to keep track of what really bothers you and what works; letting someone know "usually this has been the best way to go about it..." can save a lot of hassle and embarrassment instead of just literally, rolling with it.

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One Response to Wheelchair Pushing Etiquette

  1. I got one. This used to happen to me a lot when I broke my arm and it always irritated me! Let's say you go to the mall or a store and the person pushing you sees something and starts looking through the clothes, or whatever and they just park you right there facing the opposite direction. Not even realizing that maybe you want to look too. I never liked being pushed at ALL. Even now. The chair I have now was custom made and the wc guy asked me if I wanted handle bars installed and I said NO! Don't push my chair! Don't touch my chair! Of course all that goes out the window if I have to go down a steep ramp or through sand, etc. Then I pretty much hang on to you for dear life!

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