Dear Bitter Butch:
Should I hold the door for people in wheelchairs? It seems only courteous; I hold them for people pushing strollers. But it feels super awkward if they’re not right behind me and I stand there holding the door for like a minute and a half while they make their way up the ramp. Help! I don’t want them to be stuck outside, I live in a cold climate!
There is so much angst over door opening and wheelchairs! And now you’ve added freezing to death on top of it.
Before I answer your question, let me put one of your fears to rest. Disabled people go around all day to jobs, to the grocery store, to parent-teacher conferences. There are doors everywhere. Opening doors from the seat of a wheelchair is a very basic wheelchair-using skill. I’ve done it hundreds of times. I, even though I live in Minnesota, have never frozen to death due to a lack of ability to open a door.
Also, I love opening my own door. The world sees me as so helpless, and opening a door from my super-sweet tricked out ultralightweight chair is a smooth process and I can show off a little.
That said, let me give you some basic etiquette for door opening: If you are directly in front of a person in a wheelchair, you might ask if you can hold the door open for the person. If s/he says yes (this is a really, really crucial step), hold open the door as you would for someone with their arms full or in a stroller. Make sure that you do not open the door in a manner that makes you stand directly in the person’s way. Hold it wide open and stand behind it, keeping yourself completely clear of the entry. I’ve had so many well-meaning people hold open the door only to stand in my way. I do not want to crush the toes of a well-meaning citizen, and thus we are in a rather awkward standoff. We both apologize a lot.
Holding open a door for someone few yards behind you — regardless of how they ambulate — is just super annoying and makes people feel like they have to scurry for you. Don’t do it.
If you are one of those caretaking types who can’t stand the thought of not helping someone, I am giving you permission to go into the building, hide behind a column, and if the wheelchair-using person is struggling with the door, to come out of hiding and offer help.
BITTER BUTCH aka Haddayr Copley-Woods is a queer, a cripple, a nerd, a mom to two kids with neurological differences, and has a truckload of opinions on everything including sex and relationships, parenting, disability issues, family relationships, work dynamics, gender/sexuality issues, and etiquette.