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Tips for People with Mobility Disabilities


  1. Always ask the person how you can best assist.
  2. Ask or look for:
  • An identification bracelet with special health information.
  • Emergency contact information to reach the person’s family.
  • Essential equipment and supplies (for example:medication, wheelchair, walker, oxygen, batteries, communication devices [head pointers, alphabet boards, speech synthesizers, etc.]).
  • Mobility aids (for example, wheelchair, cane, walker or an assistance or service animal).
  • Special health instructions (for example, allergies).
  • Special communication information (for example, the person might say [s]he is stressed, look confused, withdraw, start rubbing their hands together).
  • Conditions that people might misinterpret (for example, someone might mistake Cerebral Palsy for drunkenness).
  • Try to include the person in conversations with other people; don’t talk about a person in front of that person.
  • If the person does not use words to speak, look for gestures or other behaviors that communicate what that person wants to express.
  • Don’t assume that people do not understand just because they don’t use words to communicate.
  • Always ask the person how you can help before attempting any assistance. Every person and every disability is unique - even though it may be important to evacuate the location where the person is, respect their independence to the extent possible. Don't make assumptions about the person's abilities.
  • Ask if they have limitations or problems that may affect their safety.
  • Some people may need assistance getting out of bed or out of a chair, but CAN then proceed without assistance. Ask!
  • Here are some other questions you may find helpful:
  • "Are you able to stand or walk without the help of a mobility device like a cane, walker or a wheelchair?
  • "You might have to [stand] [walk] for quite a while on your own. Will this be ok? Please be sure to tell someone if you think you need assistance."
  • "Do you have full use of your arms?"
  • When carrying the person, avoid putting pressure on his or her arms, legs, or chest. This may result in spasms, pain, and may even interfere with their ability to breathe.
  • Avoid the "fireman's carry." Use the one or two person carry techniques.
  • A person using a mobility device may be able to negotiate stairs independently. One hand is used to grasp the handrail while the other hand is used for the crutch or cane. Do not interfere with the person's movement unless asked to do so, or the nature of the emergency is such that absolute speed is the primary concern. If this is the case, tell the person what you'll need to do and why.
  • Ask if you can help by offering to carry the extra crutch.
  • If the stairs are crowded, act as a buffer and run interference for the person.
  • (1) If the conversation will take more than a few minutes, sit down to speak to the person at eye level.
  • (2) Wheelchair users are trained in special techniques to transfer from one chair to another. Depending on their upper body strength, they may be able to do much of the work themselves.
  • (3) Ask before you assume you need to help, or what that help should be.
  • The In-chair carry is the most desirable technique to use, if possible.
  • One-person assist: Grasp the pushing grips, if available; Stand one step above and behind the wheelchair; Tilt the wheelchair backward until a balance (fulcrum) is achieved; Keep your center of gravity low; Descend frontward; Let the back wheels gradually lower to the next step.
  • Two-person assist: Position the second rescuer to stand in front of the wheelchair and face the wheelchair; Stand one, two, or three steps down (depending on the height of the other rescuer); Grasp the frame of the wheelchair; Push into the wheelchair; Descend the stairs backward.
  • Motorized wheelchairs may weigh up to 100 pounds unoccupied, and may be longer than manual wheelchairs. Lifting a motorized wheelchair and user up or down stairs requires two to four people.
  • People in motorized wheelchairs probably know their equipment much better than you do. Before lifting, ask about heavy chair parts that can be temporarily detached, how you should position yourselves, where you should grab hold, and what, if any, angle to tip the chair backward.
  • Turn the wheelchairs power off before lifting it.
  • Most people who use motorized wheelchairs have limited arm and hand motion. Ask if they have any special requirements for being transported down the stairs.


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