IU13 Outlook May 2015 Issue

Telling the World about Wheelchair Etiquette: A Young Man on a Mission!

“If I can make a difference for somebody else’s life (by telling this story), then it’s worth it.”

Josh with Meredith JorgensenThese are the words of Josh Fry, a student in the IU13 School-to-Work program who is on a mission to tell the world about wheelchair etiquette. Josh has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects his body movement and muscle coordination, requiring him to use a wheelchair. A 20-year-old man with a love of video games, jokes, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Josh is witty and charming – and always wearing a broad smile. But as Josh said in a recent interview, there are a few things that “really tick me off.” 

Josh often experiences people jumping in front of him in line, running to squeeze through a doorway because they are in a hurry (it takes Josh a little while to navigate a door frame), or doing things for him without asking if he needs help. Josh doesn’t really mind, nor does he get upset, but he wished people would ask.  And then he thought – perhaps people don’t realize what they are doing and the impact it has on his life! So, Josh reached out to WGAL News 8 with the story idea of wheelchair etiquette. WGAL’s Meredith Jorgensen loved the idea and helped Josh share his key points:

5 Pieces of Advice from Josh:

  1. Please don’t run/rush/step in front of me.  We are all trying to get somewhere.  If I’m entering a doorway, please don’t hop in front of me.  If my chair hits you, it could hurt you. Just ask and I’ll stop to let you in.
  2. If I’m in the halls, please be careful when passing me. I have trouble with peripheral vision and may not see you before it’s too late.
  3. If I need assistance, I’ll ask for it.  Thank you…but please do not just do things for me such as taking my lunch tray away.  I am trying to do as much as possible on my own.  It may take me a little longer, but I’ll get it done or ask for assistance.
  4. My mind works but sometimes my reactions are slow. Please be patient and don’t assume that I’m mentally disabled. I don’t like being talked to like a baby…
  5. Please don’t push (or play with) the buttons on my wheelchair. It’s not a toy. It weighs over 500 pounds and is very powerful.


Josh is not alone in feeling this way.  In fact, similar points (and how to handle them) are outlined in various resources about wheelchair etiquette and disability etiquette. Organizations such as the United Cerebral Palsy, United Spinal Association, and Easter Seals (to name a few) offer guidelines for interacting with individuals with disabilities. There are even guidelines and resources available for employers, coworkers, cities, etc.  

  • When speaking to a person with a disability, look at him/her directly.  Don’t speak to the caregiver, parent, or interpreter.
  • Don’t raise your voice unnecessarily.
  • Greet the person as you would normally with a handshake. If the person is unable to shake hands, it is polite to gently touch them on the shoulder or back (but never the head).
  • Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use accepted, common expressions such as “See you later,” or “Did you hear about that?” that seems to relate to a person’s disability.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you’re unsure of what to do.

The rules of etiquette and manners should not change simply because you’re interacting with an individual in a wheelchair or with a disability. However, people often comment about feeling uneasy because they don’t know how to respond or act in the setting. Don’t be embarrassed. Take some time to research the topic online, download some tips, or even contact a local agency for details on social interactions, conversations, appropriate workplace accommodations, etc.  And if you don’t know what to do or say, simply ask.

Josh certainly accomplished his mission! His story aired on WGAL in April and was shared with thousands of viewers via social media.  “I even had somebody at work [Goodwill Industries] comment about seeing the video and that I did a great job,” stated Josh with his magnetic smile!

Congratulations, Josh, and thank you for sharing this message with the world!


Links to sources referenced in this article:

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