10 things to know when meeting someone in a wheelchair

As a person with a disability, I have learned to successfully navigate the wonderful world of awkward situations.

Whether I'm out grocery shopping or at the movies with friends, it's not out of the ordinary to be thrusted into uncomfortable experiences. From the painfully piercing stares from toddlers, to inappropriate remarks from strangers, I've seen and heard them all.

Over the past 18 years of using an electric wheelchair, I've bumbled and lumbered my way through experiences and have become an expert in the excruciating.

With this incredible wealth of knowledge, I'm offering these 10 things to consider when you meet someone with a disability:

Don't ask if we know your friend in a wheelchair

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone in a wheelchair knows everyone with a disability. So no, I don't know your friend, Steve, in Atlanta. 

We don't want to go for a race

If we wanted to have a race, I'd go to a race track, not a department store.

We don't drive over the speed limit

Our wheelchairs barely go above nine miles per hour, so the speed limit is safe from us.

A fist bump is just as good as a handshake

Many quadriplegics have difficulty moving their fingers and raising their arms, so a fist bump is an accepted alternative to the hand shake or high five.

It's okay to ask to lend a hand

If you come across someone in a wheelchair and it looks like they require assistance, they probably do. Go ahead and ask to lend a hand.

Everyone's disability is different

There are several different types and severities of disabilities, so each person's situation is unique.

It's okay to ask what happened

While I've been asked hundreds of times, it's perfectly fine to ask why I'm in a wheelchair. I figure letting people know about what happened helps them feel more at ease around me.

Your kid doesn't want to go for a ride

On more than one occasion, I've had people with babies playfully say the baby wants a ride on my wheelchair and then put him or her on my lap. Not only does it scare the kid, it's also awkward and extremely uncomfortable for me.

We don't need a gold star for going to the supermarket

If you see someone in a wheelchair out at the grocery store or at a restaurant, you don't need to give us a pat on the back or a thumbs up. We're living our normal lives just like you and buying dinner shouldn't be something you need to cheer about.

You don't need to speak louder

Pro Tip: Being disabled doesn't mean we can't hear or understand you. There's no need to speak to us any louder than anyone else or like we're little toddlers.

By no means are you expected to follow these tips to the letter. They're more guidelines than rules. But if these tips help your next experience with a person with a disability be a little less stressful and awkward, then my goal was accomplished.

Like they always say: the more you know.