This happens to me several times a week. I’m partially-sighted and use a white symbol cane. I have had people grab me at the top of escalators (really dangerous), pull me across roads without so much as a word, wave their hands in my face to check if I’m “faking it”, or manhandle me out of taxis without my consent, when I’m clearly capable or disembarking my myself. I have PTSD due to being raped about 8 years ago, and non-consensual touch is still very triggering and invasive. I feel quite helpless and vulnerable and angry all at once. I use polite language in these situations, but I’ve found people can get very defensive about being asked to stop, no matter how I frame the request.
Recently there were building works happening on a street near my house. One of the builders warned me that there was a cable on the pavement and I thanked him for the warning and told him that I could see it and would be careful. He didn’t listen to a word I said but just grabbed my arm. I felt really upset, and asked him to let go, which he did, in some shock. I often feel that I am infantilised as a disabled woman, that there is a perception that I am unable to judge situations for myself, that my body is somehow public property, and that I should just be grateful for having complete strangers paw at me. I’m frustrated at how often my words go unheard – I feel robbed of my agency and independence. I really don’t mind people asking or offering help, or verbally alerting me to situations, but I need them to listen when I say I’m fine.
One positive experience I had was two winters ago when the streets were really icy and I was having a very hard time collecting my shopping. A young woman saw me struggling up the hill and asked if I needed any help. At that point, I really did. She held out her arm for me to take, which was exactly the right thing to do, and offered to carry some of my shopping for me. She was a trainee social worker and had a really good understanding of how to offer a help in a way that was empowering. We actually had a good chat about the power dynamics of offering help on our way up the hill. I was very grateful that she stopped to help me that day.
Criminologist and Co-Director of Centre for Gender Studies at University of Sussex