Assisting People with Mobility Limitations

Bureau of EMS, Trauma & Preparedness Logo


Assisting People with Mobility Limitations

Alice Frame, MA - MDHHS Disabilities Health Unit Program Coordinator

In Michigan, roughly 15% of adults have a mobility disability of some kind.  It is one of the most common types of disabilities among adults. In an emergency, that percentage is likely to go up from injury or loss of equipment.  

Having a mobility limitation does not only mean someone uses a wheelchair. Emergency responders may encounter people with all types of mobility aids such as walkers, canes, crutches, wheelchairs, and motorized chairs. Some people with mobility limitations don’t use any assistive devices.  It may just take more time for them to complete a task. In this case, it may be hard to tell looking at a person that he or she has a mobility limitation. 

Some people with mobility limitations may also have cognitive impairments, however the suggestions below only apply to those with mobility limitations. Different strategies may be necessary for individuals who have multiple disabilities:   

  • Always ask a person before helping. Try to respect the person’s independence as much as possible. Not making assumptions about how a person uses assistive devices demonstrates a respect for their independence.  If speed is the primary concern, tell the person before assisting them.
  • Sit or kneel to be at eye level when talking to someone using a wheelchair or seated mobility aid.  This makes it easier for the person to follow the conversation and also shows respect.
  • If a person must be picked up, ask first.  They may be able to suggest the best way to do so without causing harm to them, you, or their equipment. 
  • If possible, ensure the mobility aid stays with the person.  Otherwise, they will not be able to retain their independence throughout the emergency response.  However, different situations present different issues.  For example, during a vaccine clinic, keeping a person and their mobility aid together is easier than during decontamination after exposure to a harmful substance.  The best way to learn how to handle more difficult situations where separation may be necessary is to exercise the process with people who use mobility aids.  Sharing information will help improve processes and ensure those with mobility issues are helped in the best way possible.

When in doubt, always ask the person what help he or she needs and go from there.  A person with a disability is the best judge of their abilities and needs.