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According to NHS England, wheelchairs are used by approximately 1.2 million people in the UK. The majority of wheelchair users are aged 60 or more – they account for more than two thirds of all wheelchair users in the UK – and nearly 1 million people are believed to have learning disability in England alone.

When so many people use wheelchairs, why then are we so awkward about how to interact with them?

It’s human nature to know how to greet someone, however, when greeting someone with a physical disability, it can be confusing for people who aren’t familiar with wheelchair etiquette, so here are some tips (with credit to KD  Smart Chair, United Spinal and Karman Healthcare) for how to interact with and respect wheelchair users:

1. Ask before you help them

Just because someone has a disability it doesn’t mean they need your help. Adults with disabilities want to be treated as independent people, so only offer assistance only if the person appears to need it. A person with a disability will often times communicate when they needs help.

Some people with disabilities depend on their arms for balance, and so grabbing them, even if your intention is to assist, could knock them off balance. Never touch a wheelchair or wheelchair user without a direct invitation to do so. It is both demeaning and rude. Most wheelchair users consider their wheelchair an extension of their own body, so avoid leaning on, pushing or otherwise handling their chair without their permission.

2. Don’t make assumptions about why a person is using a wheelchair

Many, if not most, wheelchair users are not paralysed and can get up if they need to. Don’t make assumptions about why they have to use a wheelchair or about their capabilities. In addition, don’t assume the person can’t understand you or can’t hear you, try instead to view wheelchair users as what they are – regular people who happen to be using a different tool to get around.

3. Speak directly to a wheelchair user

Don’t disrespect a wheelchair user by speaking to the caregiver instead of them. Just because their legs or back doesn’t function as well as yours, doesn’t mean their brain is any less capable than yours. Making small talk with a person who has a disability is great, so just talk to them as you would with anyone else.

Also, don’t comment on the wheelchair. There’s no need to discuss, question or even compliment the wheelchair. Talk to the person about yourself, themselves, or anything else – but not about their wheelchair. It’s inappropriate and often uncomfortable to highlight their use of a wheelchair or make it the focus of your discussion.

4. Don’t use their parking spots or restroom stalls

This is a real no no. Even if it’s just for five minutes and even if there are no wheelchair users around, you don’t know when one will show up, so please don’t deny them of their right to park closer to a venue or go to the toilet.

5. Sit down for long conversations with a wheelchair user

Don’t make wheelchair users crane their neck for long periods of time so they can speak to you. Take a seat and let the conversation flow more naturally.

Additionally, bending down to speak to a wheelchair user is patronising and should be avoided at all costs. If you find it difficult to maintain eye contact while standing, pull up a seat.

6. Don’t ask for a go in their chair

You’d think this one would be obvious…

7. Teach your children about wheelchair users and how to treat them

Children are inquisitive and have a habit of saying exactly what they are thinking out loud. It’s important to educate them about disabled people and explain to them about wheelchair users and why someone might need to use one, so they will grow up to be kind and considerate of others.

Care workers and nurses need more support to handle the emotional impact of their jobs. According to an article published on Vice, depression is over twice as prevalent in nurses as it is in the general population—18 percent versus nine percent (in the US), and nurses with depression are not only likely to suffer themselves, but their illness may have an impact on their coworkers and potentially the quality of care they provide. In a study from 2014, workers in the healthcare industry had higher ratios for mood disorders, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders and psychiatric disorders. Among workers in healthcare industry, females had higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders than males.

There are multiple reasons as to what makes care work so emotionally taxing, including working conditions associated with the health and well-being of visiting home care workers, being unfairly paid, having minimal benefits, emotional labour, lack organisational support, lack of control over work, and peer pressure. Having to witness and care for some people through to the end of their lives can also be hard on the strongest of people.

In an article in the Guardian, Paul Case a mental health and housing support worker living in Edinburgh, wrote: “It’s incredible how much emotional labour social care workers take on but rarely discuss. We work intimately, often alone, with some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We see, hear and intervene in situations that can be distressing. We witness the realities of abuse, poverty and addiction. Processing the emotional impact of our work takes time and effort.

“The consequences of not having the time and space to adequately perform our emotional labour can be disastrous. As a recovery worker for a mental health charity, I’ve seen staff break down crying, signed off due to stress or simply leave halfway through a shift, unable to cope. A high staff turnover, an over-reliance on agency staff and inconsistent support all appear to be near-endemic in social care.”

We all need a break, no matter how much we love our jobs. If you are not at 100% as a care worker, you cannot adequately care for those in need. Nurse.org say that not looking after your mental health can result in distraction, and when you’re distracted -whether work-related or not- you should promptly tackle the situation. It can also affect physical health, often resulting in heart disease, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, asthma, obesity, gastronomical problems and premature death. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states, “there is no health without mental health.” Poor mental health is a risk factor for chronic physical ailments. When your mental health begins to affect your physical health, you should definitely use a mental health day to care for yourself.

Here are Mind the Charity’s top tips for staying well at work:

1. Reclaim your lunch break: Why not make the most of that precious hour – or half hour – by trying some of these suggestions…
2. Hold a group activity: If there’s a green space near your workplace why not organise a game of rounders or football, hold a guerrilla gardening session, or a group walk? Take time to enjoy the outdoors and get re-energised for an afternoon of productive work.
3. Take up a challenge: Local sponsored walks or marathons are a great way to keep active. Sign with your colleagues and train together during lunch breaks. Participating as part of a team can give a communal sense of achievement when you complete the challenge.
4. When you’re at work, working hard to complete a task, music can also help eliminate distractions around you. By blocking out the noise of your fellow workers, machinery or bleeping phones you can focus easier on the task at hand.
5. Create clear boundaries between work and home: Try not to let work spill over into your personal life. If you need to bring work home, designate a separate area for work and stick to it, you’ll find it much easier to then close the door on work.
6. Use the time on your commute home to wind down from work: Read a book or listen to your music to set aside some time to yourself. Maybe try cycling part of your journey or getting off a stop early to take a shortcut through a park or quiet streets. These little actions can really help you to switch off.
7. Ask for help: If you feel your workload is spiralling out of control, take opportunity to discuss it with your manager or supervisor. If you can’t resolve the problem of unrealistic goals, organisation problems or deadlines in this way, talk to your personnel department, trade union representative or other relevant members of staff.