As a disabled woman in a busy northern city, I am regularly touched and “felt up” in public, and in situations where I had no control over my surroundings. Simple journeys like getting to and from work on public transport are filled with unexpected violations. Instances such as getting into taxis and on to trains and planes, sometimes complicated by extreme behaviour from the public that is both well intentioned and not. In the days before mobile phones, I felt a lot of eyes on me. At a time where I used a lot of public transport in my youth I encountered far more instances such as groping from taxi drivers (black cabs in particular – avoid them) inappropriate questions such as “whats wrong with you”, hostility in pubs, stares and many seemingly innocuous instances where I have even been congratulated for entering a room or a doorway, or considered going down a kerb as “showing off”. I have been spat on while I was waiting for taxi, by a man who looked pretty drugged up, and spat on by people that weren’t looking where they were aiming. Waiting for an accessible space on a bus late at night has also resulted in arguments with drunken strangers who question you and make you feel you must talk, and if you don’t you are “a bitch”. A title which I am proud to have reclaimed. I used all these experiences to my advantage and I now work as a transport consultant.
Most often literally everything I do as a wheelchair user, someone is likely to comment on it when I am out in public -friends excluded. I was accustomed to this but in recent years I drive, so am less in contact with all the range of inappropriate interactions and I have far more energy to focus on my goals, life and my interests. Just navigating the city as a disabled woman comes with a drain of energy, sapping at your self esteem and patience. It has made me shut down parts of my personality that slowly come back through being nice to yourself, and having more awareness to avoid public interaction on the whole, but now I attend more well managed events at accessible places. I am happy that people are finally sharing their stories, and i’m proud to share mine.
Criminologist and Co-Director of Centre for Gender Studies at University of Sussex