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Young man and lady in wheelchair hanging out in the park

8 facts you need to know about using a wheelchair

August 21, 2017

When people see someone using a wheelchair, they often tend to jump to conclusions – sometimes without even realising. But like many assumptions, these are often incorrect.

To help shed some light and clear up some confusion, we’ve put together 8 facts you need to know about using a wheelchair.

#1. People are not “Wheelchair Bound”

The fact is, wheelchair users aren’t bound to their chair; it’s simply a device that lets them get from A to B. And when you think about it, using a wheelchair is actually quite the opposite of being bound – it is liberating and enabling for the person!

And remember, not all people need to use their chair at all times, so there is no need to be shocked or accuse wheelchair users of ‘faking it’ when they stand up.

The fact is there are many reasons someone may use a wheelchair periods of time only – many conditions for example can cause chronic pain, fatigue or restrict mobility. It could be that someone has Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for example, and some days they might choose to walk, but on their ‘bad’ days they might choose to use their chair.

#2. A wheelchair is part of someone’s personal space

For many people, a wheelchair is an extension of their body and therefore the rules of personal space apply to it as well!

So, that means… do not rest your feet on it, lean on it or use it as an armchair! This is an invasion of personal space – it’s the same as a stranger coming along and resting their arm on your shoulder.

Also, the general rule is: don’t ever touch or move someone’s wheelchair without permission from the owner. This even applies if the chair is not currently being used!

#3. Don’t assume someone who uses a wheelchair needs help

Often people’s sentiment is in the right place when they jump to attention to help someone who uses a wheelchair – but we often see people going overboard to help someone when it’s not actually needed.

The thing is, many people don’t actually need help and are quite comfy going about their day to day.

But if you do see someone who you think could use a hand, the best thing to do is actually just ask them if they need some help! But if they say no, respect their answer and don’t push the subject. Simple as that!

#4. People who use a wheelchair can have fantastic sex lives

Sex is a natural human desire – and people who use a wheelchair feel no differently about sex than any other person would.

While some disabilities can make ‘traditional’ sex difficult, many people (even many with spinal cord injuries) can still have full sensation and control ‘down there’. And what actually is ‘traditional sex’ anyway – sex can be anything including intimacy like kissing, touching and massage.

Props like wedges, sliding chairs and swings can make sex easier too – and even a wheelchair can be a great tool if you use a little imagination! Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

If you’re curious you may like to check out our article about sex and disability.

#5. A wheelchair doesn’t mean you can’t shake up the dance floor

Unfortunately, it not uncommon for people to stare or comment when they see someone in a wheelchair at a club, bar or party – but why can’t someone in a wheelchair be shaking up the dance floor if they want to?

In the words of the late Stella Young: “I am never more aware of my body than I am at around midnight on a Friday. More often than not, I’m on a dance floor, feeling music pulse through my body and moving it accordingly. I’m surrounded by people. They’re dancing. I’m dancing.”

“It’s my body, and I’ll bloody well dance if I want to.”

#6. A wheelchair user doesn’t just hang out with their ‘carers’

It might sound obvious, but people who use wheelchairs have friends, partners, kids, parents and siblings just like anyone else. So if you see someone with a wheelchair hanging out some of their peeps – don’t assume they’re their carers!

To quote the late Stella Young again, “Quite often these people are hanging out with us because they like to, not because we need looking after. It’s annoying when people assume the only reason someone is hanging out with you is because they have to.”

#7. Accessible toilets and parking spots are important

The general story here is simple: accessible facilities such as toilets and parking spots exist because people need them. It’s important to remember that these facilities are often limited too – so just because you don’t want to stand in line or do another lap around the carpark is not an excuse to use them!

In fact – it’s illegal to use an accessible parking space without a permit, and it’s just not chill to use an accessible toilet if you don’t need to.

We’ve written a whole blog about people with invisible disabilities using accessible parking before too, because remember – as long as someone has an appropriate permit, it’s not up to you to judge who can park there!

#8. Yes someone who uses a wheelchair can drive

In many cases, cars actually be modified to allow someone who uses a wheelchair to drive –
foot pedals can be raised, re-positioned, or even replaced with hand-controlled devices.

In some vehicles, a wheelchair user can get behind the wheel while still using their chair, thanks to a neat docking device that anchors their chair to the car floor.

While modifications such as these are not possible on all vehicles (and drivers may need to be assessed and trained by an Occupational Therapist before driving), these modifications do mean that for many wheelchair users, they can definitely get behind the wheel!