The Manual Wheelchair Training Guide

by Axelson P, Chesney D, Minkel J & Perr A
© 1998 by PAX Press, a division of Beneficial Designs, Inc.
P.O. Box 69
Minden, NV 89423-0069
Phone: 775.783.8822

Section 5.2

Setting Limits and Offering Help

 cartoon: wheelchair user at the bottom of a flight of stairs asking someone to help them get to the top

It can be hard to admit you have reached your limits. However, you should safeguard your own health and well-being. You need to know your limits and how to say "no" when you have reached them.

How to Say "No"

It is important to understand that you do not have to assist a wheelchair rider if it will make you uncomfortable. This could result in injury to the wheelchair rider or yourself. For example, pushing a wheelchair up a curb with an injured back could be painful and may cause further injury. Do not be afraid to say "No." The following are several ways to decline help:

  • Politely decline by saying, "I don't feel comfortable or safe assisting you in that way." Explaining why you declined is often appreciated. However, if your reasons are personal, you have no obligation to explain yourself.
  • Offer to find someone who can help. "I'm not able to assist you up this curb because I have a shoulder injury. Would you like me to find someone else?"
  • Offer an alternative skill. "I'm not comfortable lifting your casters onto the curb because I don't think I can lift the weight of your wheelchair. Can we try climbing it backward, and I'll pull from the push handles?"
  • Offer an alternative route. "I'm concerned about trying to go down this steep hill. I don't think it's safe. The hill isn't as steep a little farther down the road."


cartoon: illustrating text

Don't put yourself at risk of injury when helping a wheelchair user.

Offering Assistance

Sometimes watching a wheelchair rider do something is difficult because you can see that whatever he or she is doing is not easy. Keep in mind that the person may not want assistance; it may be important for him or her to accomplish the activity independently. It might be easier for the wheelchair rider to do the activity alone than to explain to others how they can help. The wheelchair rider might have had bad experiences in the past when people tried to help. The wheelchair user might even be out exercising. It may be difficult to watch, but you do not necessarily need to help the person.

Only assist a wheelchair rider when you are asked and/or have been given permission. If you think a wheelchair rider might need assistance, offer. The wheelchair rider may be in a position that looks precarious, but have the situation under control. Unexpected assistance might throw him or her off balance.


cartoon illustrating text

Don't help unless you are asked or your offer to assist is accepted. You could jostle the wheelchair user off balance or take him or her in a direction he or her didn't intend to go.

  • Ask if the wheelchair user wants help. Avoid assertive statements such as, "Let me do this for you," which make it difficult for the wheelchair rider to decline your help.
  • Try wording your offer more casually. "Could you use a hand?" or "Can I help you out?"

If your offer to assist has been accepted, the wheelchair rider is in charge. Ask the rider how you can help and follow his or her instructions. Ask the rider to talk you through the sequence before trying it, then work together to do it correctly.

  • Do not push, lift, or pull unless the wheelchair rider asks. Often you will be working together (e.g., to climb a curb, you may be pushing on the push handles as the wheelchair rider pushes).
  • Speak up if you feel in danger of injuring yourself by following the rider's instructions.
  • Push or pull an occupied wheelchair only when the rider is actually pushing or pulling on the pushrims. If you move the wheelchair when the rider is not expecting it or not holding on, you could cause the rider to fall out of the wheelchair.

Last Updated: February 5, 2001

" "

Return to:
WheelchairNet Home Page 

Please let us know if you find a link that doesn't work or have an idea about something to include!

Contact information:
  Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology  Telephone: 412.624.6279

 © Copyright 2006 University of Pittsburgh. All rights reserved.
No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WheelchairNet and the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology.

Please note: This information is provided a archival information from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Wheeled Mobility from 1993 to 2002.

" "