How to provide respectful physical support

Outcome: From this lesson, you will have five strategies, gone through two scenarios and watched a video on how to respectfully provide physical support. After answering the reflection questions, you will have hopefully identified what you have learned and how you can incorporate these tips into your own life.

Lesson Length : 15 minutes

Physical disabilities can have a wide range of effects on the body and does not necessarily mean that the individual is a wheelchair user. It is important that individuals, especially children and young adults are supported and encouraged to be as active as possible in their day to day life. Position changes throughout the day, especially for those who do use a wheelchair, are extremely important because it can prevent symptoms such as fatigue, discomfort, muscle tightness and has a lot of added benefits.


 First read through the provided strategies first about how to provide physical support to children. Then read each scenario and write down what you may do in each one to provide support. Lastly, watch the video for an example of how to appropriately assist someone.

Activity Part I

Read 5 Strategies for How to Provide Respectful and Appropriate Physical Support


Always ask the person before you provide physical support for them. It is not polite or respectful to assume the person needs helps and it may make the person uncomfortable if they are moved without being asked first.  

2.Don't Do it For Them

The goal is for the person to be as independent as possible. If they are able to assist you in the transfer, make sure that you are helping them and not just doing it for them. 

3.Be Aware of Your Environment

When providing support for someone, make sure to examine your surroundings before helping the person. Identify what is stable and what may move when you put weight against it. Transfers from chair to the ground, from walker to bench, etc, can be made easier if there is something near the person for them to hold onto. 

4.Be Conscious How You Support Them

While assisting someone, it is important to be aware where you are holding onto them. Appropriate places to hold someone while physically assisting them include holding onto their hands and walking in front of them, holding onto their shoulders or arms while you stand behind them, or standing beside them and putting your arm around their shoulders. It is important to make sure you can physically support them appropriately. 

5.Clearing a Path

Making sure that there is a clear path for the individual to maneuver is an extremely important safety measure. Some individuals with physical disabilities can struggle with their balance and making sure that nothing is blocking their walkway can allow them to move independently.

Activity Part II

Read through the two scenarios and think about how you would go about the situation before checking the answer.
Scenario 1
Suggested Answer

There is a group of kids playing on a park structure, and a child in a wheelchair is off to the side. How can you make sure that all of the children are included? 

A counselor can go up to the child in the wheelchair and ask if they would like to join the rest of the kids on the swing. The child may be apprehensive about joining, especially if they are not sure if they can do it. Phrases such as “If you want to join, I can help you onto the swing and I won’t leave until you are done” can help reassure that if they do get on to the swing, they won’t be stuck when they are done playing. Then, if the child wants to join the kids on the swing, use some of the strategies above to appropriately help them out of their chair and onto the swing.

Scenario 2
Suggested Answer

How would you help a child who is sitting on the couch transfer to standing in their walker? 

If the child expresses that they want to get up from the couch, you could help them by providing a stable object to hold on to. Or if the child needs more assistance than that, you could have them hold onto your hands and help them transfer to their walker by assisting them into a standing position and guiding them to their walker.

Activity Part III

The video tagged below is a great example of how to safely and respectfully provide physical support. In the video, Hannah helps Will out of his wheelchair so he can play in the water. Notice how Hannah talks to Will throughout the whole process using phrases such as "I am going to lift you out of your chair so you can play in the water" and "I am going to scoop under your arms". She also counts down and reassures him that she is supporting him.

Pause & Reflect:

  1. What is something new you learned about providing physical support? 
  2. Would you feel comfortable physically assisting someone now that you have read through this lesson? If not, what is making you the most uncomfortable?