How to teach wheelchair etiquette? — The Bump
Special Needs

How to teach wheelchair etiquette?

We were at the birthday party of a friend on Saturday. We brought Lily's wheelchair since that is her primary mode of mobility. Several things happened that I wasn't sure how to respond to, and I'm hoping someone might be able to give me some suggestions on how to respond in the future.

1). BFF's DS's were utterly fascinated by Lily's wheelchair. DS #1, who is 2.5, kept messing with all the moving parts and tried to push Lily around. Then, DS #2, who just turned 1, started exploring the chair as well. These children are like nephews to me, and they didn't seem to be bothering Lily, so at the time I didn't think much of it. But, now that I'm home, I'm thinking maybe I should have said something to them, because I don't want them thinking a wheelchair is a toy. Or, that it is appropriate to go up and start pushing people who are in wheelchairs. And, I know there is a certain etiquette when interacting with adults in wheelchairs (I.e. don't lean on their wheelchair, don't push them without them asking, etc.). But, I also don't want my friends sons to be afraid of wheelchairs either. I did end up telling DS #1 that he could not sit in the chair. That it was a special chair, just for Lily. But, that's it. Any suggestions?

2). As you could expect, my BFF's family and in-laws were at the party. Well, on more than one occasion someone said "Looks like your going to have to leave the wheelchair," or made a 'joke' about how it was the best present there. Now, maybe I'm just sensitive, but this really irked me. At first, I responded jokingly and said something like, "Well, for the low, low price of $6,000, you can have one too.". Some took the hint, but others didn't. What is the best way to respond to this?

P.s. I might DD this later, as my friend is also a member of the bump.
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Re: How to teach wheelchair etiquette?

  • I think it would have been fine for you to give the boys a little etiquette lesson.  It might not have stopped the one year old, but the 2.5 year old is definitely old enough to understand.  My DD2 will be three in Feb, and she accompanies DD1 and me to DD1's OT appts.  We see lots of kids with wheelchairs, walkers, etc. and she asks about them, but she knows not to touch.  It would also help give your DD and BFF the language to use to explain it to others--I know sometimes when we're at a therapy appt and a child comes into the waiting room with a very obvious sensory or repetitive behavior I have a hard time explaining it (DD2 always asks).  I'm always grateful when the mom helps answer the question.
  • I had a big thing typed out but I come off as fairly bitchy.  In short, for kids I simply tell them gently that the chair is not a toy and cannot be stood or sat on and that only adults can push it.  Kids are fairly easy to redirect.  If they cannot seem to get over their fascination with it, then I may let them touch it and point to different parts and tell them what they do.  In general though, an adult typically redirects them with a simply we don't touch that type of thing.

    As for adults, it depends on how well I know them, my mood, and the situation.  I would love to be bitchier then I am in real life because I feel like being that way; howvever, I try to be as nice as possible and will throw in sarcasm if I feel it gets my point across without coming off as a total crazy psycho bitch.  I am very sensitive in regards to the wheelchair in public places and in places where people are not used to DS2 and his chair.  As for the present comment, that would simply piss me off and I would probably retort with "Well, seeing how DS2 can't walk I don't find his wheelchair a present but more of a necessity for his life".  Bitchy and sarcastic? Yep. Do I care? Not really.

    In general, I find that everyone is fascinated by a wheelchair because you don't really see them all the time and especially a kid in a wheelchair.  Kids are fascinated and adults basically don't know how to act or react to it so they do and say stupid crap. 

    For the situation with your BFF, I would let her know the things that happened, how you felt, and what is the best way to handle it in the future.  I would even brainstorm other situations (that would involve complete strangers) and how to deal with that too.  I can come off as pretty abrasive so stuff like that would help me out.  Hmmm, guess I am going to talk to my best friend in the near future!
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