Message to Instructors and Sifu’s

The first thing to establish is the extent of the person’s disability
  •  Have they full use of their hands and arms?
  •  How good is their balance in their wheelchair?
  •  What levels of control have they of their wheelchair?
“How do you find these things out? Real simple, ASK!”
I want to do away with some of the mystique that surrounds the term disabled and reassure you, the instructors, that there is no great mystery in instructing a person with a disability. I do not want to create any great mystery about how to interact with a person with a disability but these points may help. Just remember don’t get too caught up in rules. This is not a list of strict rules and regulations. It’s an attempt to encourage understanding, clear up misperceptions and help you relate as an instructor, and as a person, to people with disabilities. Your attitude can make a big difference. One of the most difficult barriers people with disabilities face is the attitudes and perceptions of other people. They are usually based on ignorance and fear. Most of the time, they are just misconceptions, which result in thoughtless comments by otherwise, well-meaning people. In either case, they form an obstacle to acceptance and full participation in society for people with disabilities.Training is a two way thing, the student with the disability has to be honest with you and understand the need for you to know these facts. If I was to be asked how I want to be treated as a person who uses a wheelchair the simple answer is, treat me as you would if I walked into your studio.I realize that is very uncomplicated and disability can be unknown territory unless you happen to know someone who uses a wheelchair. The reality is though, within a very short space of time, I guarantee you will be surprised how quickly the person’s disability becomes secondary to the person.

I do not want to create the impression that there is an enormous amount of information that I have to pass on to you, before you can look at introducing your art to a person with a disability. This is not the case, as I said at the outset of this piece, all I want to do is to encourage you to look at how you could make your skills available to a person with a disability.

Remember the key points to establish are the extent of the person’s disability

  • Have they full use of their hands and arms?
  • How good is their balance in their wheelchair?
  • What levels of control have they of their wheelchair?

One other point to consider is to ensure in the early days of the individuals training that they fit an anti tip bar to the back of their wheelchair. This will reduce the chances of the wheelchair tipping backwards.

I would also suggest, if it is possible, to borrow a wheelchair to sit in and try out some moves. If not, try out some
techniques sitting in a standard chair. This will help you get some understanding of what is practical. For example, you will realise that showing a person who uses a wheelchair how to punch an assailant in the face is not always practical, unless the attacker is leaning down within their striking range.

You have to consider whether your particular style of martial arts is practical for someone who uses a wheelchair. For example Aikido, while it is a wonderful flowing art, may not be really practical for someone using a wheelchair because of the big sweeping movements. This will of course also depend on how mobile the person is. Tae Kwon Do is another example, which I believe is limited because of the amount of kicks involved. Wing Chun lends itself better to someone who uses a wheelchair because of the upper body movements. Ideally I think the broader self defense styles that encourage people to adapt are more practical. In saying that, this is not written in stone, and as I will keep reminding you, no two people with a disability are the same, either to the extent of their disability or their determination.

General tips on relating to wheelchair users

  • Don’t assume a person with a disability needs your help. Ask first.
  • Talk directly to the person with the disability, not through a person’s companion.
  • Don’t lean on their wheelchair, it’s their personal space.
  • Do not push their wheelchair unless they ask.
  • Look beyond the wheelchair and see the person.

Hopefully the points above will help to remove some of the myths surrounding disability

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