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Supporting a loved one's spinal cord injury rehabilitation

When a loved one suffers a serious injury, family and friends can face challenges as well. While no one can truly understand what it is like to suffer a spinal cord injury unless they have survived it themselves, family and friends may be going through their own journey of confronting a loved one's recovery.

One aspect of many spinal cord injuries is, unfortunately, paralysis. In many instances those who have suffered a spinal cord injury will need to use or rely upon a wheelchair. It can help to keep certain elements of "wheelchair etiquette" in mind when first meeting someone using a wheelchair, or when first seeing a loved one using their assistive device.

One common thing that happens to those in wheelchairs is someone refusing - or forgetting - to shake their hand or make eye contact. While it's understandable that seeing someone who could formerly walk in a wheelchair, shaking their hand and making eye contact can make acceptance clear. In general, it's often helpful to try and forget the person is even in a wheelchair, or simply not pay it any attention. In some cases, those who are in wheelchairs may have areas of their body visibly affected by a car accident or other injury-producing event. Again, trying not to focus on these areas can make a wheelchair user feel more accepted.

One aspect of having a conversation with someone in a wheelchair is the fact that the wheelchair user typically has to look up in order to make eye contact with the standing person. If a conversation is going to last more than a few minutes, it can be useful to suggest an area where one can sit and make the wheelchair user more comfortable and able to make level eye contact. If the wheelchair user has a caregiver, he or she will likely appreciate one speaking directly to them instead of through the caregiver standing next to them.

Learning to accommodate another's spinal cord injury may be a long-term journey. Still, those who have suffered this type of injury can benefit from others supporting their recovery and rehabilitation. For victims and their families, speaking with a personal injury attorney about their accident can be a reassuring experience, as there may be compensation available for medical expenses and rehab costs.

Source: The Travis Roy Foundation, "New wheelchair user etiquette," accessed Nov. 5, 2015

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