Setting Limits and Offering Help
How to Say “No”
It is important to understand that you do not have to assist a wheelchair user if it will make you uncomfortable. This could result in injury to the wheelchair user or yourself. For example, pushing a wheelchair up a curb with an injured back could be painful and may cause further injury. Do not be afraid to say “No.” The following are several ways to decline help:
- Politely decline by saying, “I don’t feel comfortable or safe assisting you in that way.” Explaining why you declined is often appreciated. However, if your reasons are personal, you have no obligation to explain yourself.
- Offer to find someone who can help. “I’m not able to assist you up this curb because I have a shoulder injury. Would you like me to find someone else?”
- Offer an alternative skill. “I’m not comfortable lifting your caster wheels onto the curb because I don’t think I can lift the weight of your wheelchair. Can we try climbing it backward, and I’ll pull from the push handles?”
- Offer an alternative route. “I’m concerned about trying to go down this steep hill. I don’t think it’s safe. The hill isn’t as steep a little farther down the road.”
Sometimes the wheelchair user will be surprised or become angry at your refusal to help even if you explained it. That’s OK, you still need to protect yourself from injury.
Sometimes, watching a person who looks like he or she is struggling to complete a task is difficult. Keep in mind that the person may not want assistance; it may be important for him or her to accomplish the activity independently. It might be easier for the wheelchair user to do the activity alone than to explain to others how they can help. The wheelchair user might have had bad experiences in the past when people tried to help. The wheelchair user might even be out exercising. It may be difficult to watch, but you do not necessarily need to help the person. Don’t be offended if the wheelchair user refuses your offer to help.
Only assist a wheelchair user when you are asked and/or have been given permission. If you think a wheelchair user might need assistance, offer. The wheelchair user may be in a position that looks precarious, but have the situation under control. Unexpected assistance might throw him or her off balance.
- Ask if the wheelchair user wants help. Avoid assertive statements such as, “Let me do this for you,” which make it difficult for the wheelchair user to decline your help.
- Try wording your offer more casually. “Could you use a hand?” or “Can I help you out?”
If your offer to assist has been accepted, the wheelchair user is in charge. Ask the rider how you can help and follow his or her instructions. Ask the rider to talk you through the sequence before trying it, then work together to do it correctly.
- Do not push, lift, or pull unless the wheelchair user asks. Often you will be working together (e.g., to climb a curb, you may be pushing on the push handles as the wheelchair user pushes).
- Speak up if you feel in danger of injuring yourself by following the rider’s instructions.
- Push or pull an occupied wheelchair only when the rider is actually pushing or pulling on the handrims. If you move the wheelchair when the rider is not expecting it or not holding on, you could cause the rider to fall out of the wheelchair.