The Powered Wheelchair Training Guide

Written by Axelson P, Minkel J, Perr A, & Yamada D.

Illustrated by Clay Butler

Published by: PAX Press, a division of Beneficial Designs, Inc., Santa Cruz, California

Section 6.2

Setting Limits and Offering Help


setting limits and offering help

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 should not assist a wheelchair rider if it presents a physical hazard to your own health or you are not confident in the outcome. This could result in injury to the wheelchair rider and/or yourself. For example, pushing a wheelchair up a curb with an injured back could be painful and may cause further injury to your back. Do not be afraid to say “No.” The following are several ways to decline to 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. Can I help you find someone else to assist?”
  • Offer an alternative skill. “I’m not comfortable pulling your wheelchair backward up the curb because I don’t think I can lift the weight of the wheelchair. Can we try lifting your casters up onto the curb and then I can push you up the curb?”
  • Offer an alternative route. “I’m concerned about trying to assist you down this steep hill. The hill isn’t so steep if we go to the next corner.”

Offering Assistance

Sometimes watching a wheelchair rider do something is difficult because you can see that whatever the rider is doing is not easy. Remember that the person may not want assistance; it may be important for the person 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 or even injuries in the past when people tried to help. 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.

  • 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, let the wheelchair rider be in charge. Ask the wheelchair rider how you can help and follow the rider’s instructions. Ask the wheelchair 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 user drives forward).
  • Speak up if you feel in danger of injuring yourself by following the rider’s instructions.

Last Updated: February 20, 2003

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

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