Today marks 37 months of being in a wheelchair. In that time, I have met A LOT of people, traveled thousands of miles around the world, and had many questions asked by friends, families and complete strangers. I know most of the people mean well and are often just trying to help but here's a few things you should avoid saying and doing to those that use wheels (especially if you are a complete stranger). Note: I am in no way looking for pity or anything of the sort with this post, it's strictly informational and something to think about. Feel free to share this and save someone from looking stupid.
1. Ask before pushing or "helping." It may look like I am struggling when transferring or navigating my wheelchair but the fact is, without the use of my legs and core a lot of my movements appear awkward or clumsy when really I am perfectly in control. Sometimes lifting or pushing in the wrong way can make things harder and more dangerous. If I say no thank you, I really mean it... Don't go ahead and "help" anyways.
2. Don't ask me if I have a drivers license for that thing, or tell me to not get a speeding ticket. I've heard this countless times and to be honest it wasn't even a good joke or funny the first time.
3. "At least you don't have to walk, that looks way easier/more fun." (Or some variation of this statement) Oh yeah, I love it! Being in a wheelchair is way better than having to walk around and stand. NO, it's not. I hear this one in airports mostly. I would in fact walk/run to my destination instead of fly if given the chance. Also, maybe they missed the fact that I have to use my arms and try to get around with luggage at the same time while often on carpet. Sometimes it's better to say nothing at all.
4. Don't use me as an armrest. This generally only happens in crowded places but doesn't make it any more acceptable. Sitting down in crowded places is hard enough, I don't need to support you also.
5. "I was in a wheelchair for a month with a broken leg, I know exactly how you feel." No, you don't. The only thing you may be able to relate to in the slightest is how much of a hassle getting around in a chair can be. Aside from that, its a short term injury in which you will heal from completely in x number of days, you have full core stability, and all of your bodily functions remain the same. Plus, you broke your leg... Grab some crutches ya wuss!
6. "Good for you for still getting out." This one is usually while out with friends having a good time somewhere. Is it inspirational that I am in a wheelchair and have decided to leave my house that day? Mind blown, I don't sit in a dark room all day and cry.
7. Don't use the handicap parking stalls if you don't need them. For me, it has nothing to do with the proximity of the stall to the store or wherever I am trying to get. I require the extra width to be able to swing my door fully open to get my chair out. Especially if I have a passenger and require their door to open also.
8. Use a handicap stall in public bathrooms ONLY when no other stalls are available (unless the baby change table is in this stall). There is often only one stall that can accommodate wheelchairs and more often than not the wheelchair stall is in use by someone who doesn't need it while other stalls are vacant.
9. Lastly, one that blows my mind. "So, does it still work?" or "how do you go to the bathroom?" Unless you are a very close friend or family member, it's completely inappropriate to ask and you have no need to know that information. (I personally think being a complete stranger and asking why you're in a chair before any other conversation is rude and inappropriate also). This may seem shocking but there have been several instances where I have been asked these types of personal questions right off the bat, literally before they even say "Hello." If you really feel the need to know, google it and educate yourself.
To sum it up, if you are about to say/ask/do something, think to yourself, "Do I really need to know, is it appropriate, is it stupid, and do they really want/need my help."