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Lifting and Transferring People with Physical Disabilities

Two men on each side lift the frame of Susan's wheelchair up a short step
Two men on each side lift the frame of Susan's wheelchair up a short step

When is it appropriate – and safe – to lift or transfer a person with a disability? The answer may surprise you.

Being carried is an uncomfortable experience for many with disabilities, both physically and emotionally. Lifting a person up stairs or around obstacles is not an acceptable alternative to appropriate accessibility measures. Most people prefer to be lifted only as a last resort.

Similarly, asking someone to crawl up or down stairs, even if just a few steps, is not acceptable to most people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities experience a loss of personal dignity when lifting and transferring out of their wheelchair or scooter. In some countries, almost all buildings have steps, and lifting may be the only option.

When necessary, a proper lift and transfer should be a comfortable, safe experience for the lifter as well as the individual being lifted.

If you are lifting, you need to have a good understanding of safe lifting techniques to protect yourself. Lifting is also potentially dangerous to the person with a disability who may need certain areas of the body supported in a specific way, and language barriers can make communication about safe lifting more risky.

It is best to ask before offering assistance with standing, walking, rising, or other activities. Let the person know that he or she can ask for assistance when it is needed. If assisting with balance, take direction from the person being assisted about his or her specific needs.

Examples of places to find transfer and lift assist equipment are listed in Related Links. MIUSA does not endorse these companies nor consider this an exhaustive list of possible sources.

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