Below are some useful tips about inclusive language and wheelchair etiquette, courtesy of ParaQuad NSW.
People use wheelchairs for a variety of reasons and have different abilities. Using a wheelchair is a means of freedom because it allows a person to move about independently.
Here are some tips to give you an understanding of what is appropriate when relating to someone who uses a wheelchair:
Top 10 tips for wheelchair etiquette
- Speak directly to the person using a wheelchair, not to someone who is with them.
- If a conversation lasts more than a few minutes, consider sitting down and putting yourself at the same level as the person using the wheelchair.
- When greeting a person, it is appropriate to shake hands. If they are unable to shake hands, a touch, a nod or a similar gesture is fine.
- Focus on the person first, not the disability.
- Don’t shout, speak patronisingly or force enthusiasm. Forget the ‘speed’ limit jokes.
- Always ask the person if they would like assistance before you start to help.
- Accept ‘no’ for an answer and don’t hover. People using wheelchairs have their own unique way of completing tasks.
- A wheelchair is part of someone’s personal space, so don’t push on it, lean on it or tap it – respect their space.
- It is OK to use expressions such as ‘going for a walk’ when speaking to a person who uses a wheelchair. Most people will use the same common expressions. Just speak naturally.
- In a work environment people using wheelchairs require turning and circulation space. Keep pathways and corridors clear.
Language to use
- Person with a disability, person with a spinal cord injury
- Person who uses a wheelchair
- Person who had an injury
- Person born with a disability
- Accessible toilets
- Accessible parking
- Disabled person, handicapped, cripple or victim
- Wheelchair bound, confined
- Injured person, suffering, or stricken with a disability
- Disabled toilets
- Disabled parking
The Queensland Government’s ‘A way with words: Guidelines for the portrayal of people with a disability’ is also an excellent resource for members of the community and professional communicators, such as journalists, writers, producers and broadcasters. Click here to download your copy of the guidelines.
We will be adding to these resources as we grow our Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week campaign each year.
If you have any tips or resources that you would like to share to promote inclusion and accessibility, please contact us.