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Discussion of Speechless Episode D-I-DING: Wheelchair Etiquette Tips and Caregiving Challenges

My wheelchair is not a foot rest!

In the most recent episode of Speechless, D-I-DING, two important disability issues were brought to light.  The first issue that was addressed was basic wheelchair etiquette.  The second issue was the low income received by caregivers.  As in the previous episodes of Speechless, these real-life issues were played out in an entertaining and humorous fashion.

One this episode of Speechless, the DiMeo family took a trip to a local grocery store to shop for Ray’s school project.  As soon as the family entered the store, a fellow customer asked JJ “You got a license for that thing?”, referring to his power wheelchair.  Throughout the shopping trip, JJ was asked that question multiple times.  Of course, there is no harm intended with that question.  However, it equates to asking a tall person “How’s the air up there?”  It is a question wheelchair users get asked over and over, every time they go out.  Personally, this question does not bother me, but I can see where it can be annoying to some.

While at the Deli counter, a business man on a cell phone reached down and moved JJ’s chair out of his way without even looking at JJ.  This is a huge “no-no” in the wheelchair community.  Wheelchairs are essentially an extension of our bodies.  Moving a wheelchair without the expressed permission of the user is like picking someone up and moving them out of your way.  Imagine what would happen if you walked up to a person and literally picked them up and moved them.  I am thinking that would greatly increase your chances of receiving a bloody nose.  Looking beyond moving the chair, doing so without even acknowledging the wheelchair user is essentially making the statement that they don’t exist.  On this episode of Speechless, JJ confronted the man on his actions, he stated “You moved me like an object in your way.”  See the person, not the wheelchair.

Here are other wheelchair etiquette tips for non-wheelchair users

1. Before helping a wheelchair user, ask them if they need assistance.

2. Do not hang or lean on a wheelchair.

3. Do not sit on a wheelchair users lap unless you ask first.

4. Avoid questions like “Do you have a license for that thing?”, “Do you want to race?” or “How fast does that thing go?”  These are harmless questions, but we are asked all the time.

5. Speak directly to the user of the wheelchair, not their companion.

6. Do not stand directly in front of a wheelchair, especially at events like a concert.

7. If you value your legs, do not step in front of a moving wheelchair!  Yes, people actually do that!

8. Never pat a person in a wheelchair on the head!

9. Shake hands as you would do in any other situation that calls for a handshake.  In my case, my hands are affected by cerebral palsy, but I always appreciate a firm handshake.  I assure, CP is not contagious!

10. If a conversation lasts more than a few minutes, squat down to talk with me.

Caregiving is a rewarding but challenging job.  One of the challenges is a financial one.  On this episode of Speechless, the DiMeo family discovered that JJ’s caregiver, Kenneth, had to work a second job to make ends meet.  Most caregiving positions pay between $9.00-$15.00/hour.  Most home healthcare jobs do not offer health insurance or any benefits.  Every single one of my caregivers have multiple jobs.  It is difficult in this economy to keep long term caregivers because of the financial challenges of the job.  Home healthcare has been hit hard and has resulted in a critical shortage of workers.  The absence of health insurance in home healthcare has forced many home personal care workers to look for employment elsewhere, increasing the worker shortage.  Many have left home healthcare to work at facilities that offer health insurance.  I appreciate my team of caregivers who continue to dedicate their time and hard work for me.  I know the sacrifices they make by having to work multiple jobs.

This episode of Speechless touched on a few serious issues of the disabled.  I appreciate the fact that they highlighted issues that are normally not discussed.  Using humor to bring light to these issues lessens the uncomfortableness and brings about awareness.  When interacting with a wheelchair user, the general rule is “When in doubt, ask!”.  Additionally, show appreciation to the caregivers in your life.  They sacrifice a great deal to help others!

You can catch Speechless on ABC every Wednesday night at 8:30/7:30c.  You can catch up on all the episodes any time on Hulu.

Until next time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’!


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