Physical impairment which may impact a person’s independent mobility may include disabilities resulting from accidents, such as:
or medical conditions such as:
- cerebral palsy
- spina bifida
- muscular dystrophy
- muscular atrophy
- multiple sclerosis
- nervous system diseases
- circulatory diseases
- respiratory diseases
- other musculoskeletal disorders
- post-polio syndrome
- inherited conditions passed on genetically (e.g., limb deficiency)
- exposure to drugs or chemicals during pregnancy (e.g., thalidomide).
Not all of these conditions are outwardly visible, and some, such as arthritis, may only cause periodic difficulty. Also, these conditions do not automatically render an individual immobile – many people are able to increase their mobility with assistive devices, and can get around independently with a mobility device.
Wheelchairs and other mobility devices
People use wheelchairs. They are not ‘in wheelchairs’, ‘confined to wheelchairs’, or ‘wheelchair bound’. They use wheelchairs the same way people use cars, bikes, or rollerblades – to get around!
Tips for approaching people who use wheelchairs:
- Do not assume assistance is needed – ask.
- Accept the person’s right to refuse help.
- Be aware of what is accessible and inaccessible to people using wheelchairs.
- Learn how to push a wheelchair, how to move it up and down steps, how to tip it backwards, how to use the brake and how not to lift by the arm rests or the wheels.
- When you talk to people using wheelchairs or scooters, try sitting or crouching down to their approximate height.
- Do not talk about the person as if they are not present.
- Do not ask personal questions about the disability or its origin until you know the person well enough.
- Do not rush the person.
- Do not avoid using words such as ‘walking’ or ‘running’. People using wheelchairs use the same words.
- Do not lean on a person’s wheelchair unless you have their permission – it is their personal space.
- Do not try to move the person or their wheelchair without their permission to do so. Give a push only when asked.
Other assistive devices for mobility
People may use forearm crutches, a walker/walking frame, prosthetic limbs or other kinds of mobility devices that enable them to move about upright on their legs. It’s good to have plenty of convenient seating available, as it should not be presumed people who use these devices are able to stand for long periods of time. Available seating especially in service areas will allow people to rest and feel more comfortable in your library.
See Anne discuss her experiences as a wheelchair and crutch user in our REAL e Learning activities.