I am 27 years old and I have been
blind since infancy. All my life, I have experienced people putting their hands
on me, pushing, pulling, grabbing.. and all the backhanded compliments and
invasive questions you can think of to go along with it. Today, it astonishes
me that in this age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, people still justify that this
behavior is oK as long as someone is disabled. I work as a respite care and
personal care provider for children and adults that have physical and cognitive
disabilities. Comments I have received range from, “You have nothing to do with
this,” when I have tried to advocate for a client, to “do you need help? Oh, I
see that you have someone helping you shop.”, in reference to a four-year-old I
was working with. People have alternatingly thanked myself and my partner for
being with one another, depending on who “looks more disabled, “at the time.
People have pet my service dog without consent, against my express wishes, and
even grabbed her harness and leash at times. People have lash out when I did
not move out of their way after they silently stared at me for several minutes.
All these things including the unwanted touching, I have unfortunately
developed a tolerance for. When it happened so many times over the course of
just a day, I feel like there isn’t any other choice. Of course, I can try and
educate, but that really isn’t my job, people were taught to keep their hands
to themselves in preschool.
One instance I have not been able to brush off was much more sinister than someone “trying to help. “ A woman I had barely met an hour before, felt the need to comment on my breast size. When I was embarrassed, she reassured me that it was fine because she was large too. She then proceeded to try to grab my hand and physically make me touch her. Despite my rigidity and lack of enthusiasm, she continued to tug on my hand until I forcefully said no. Afterwords, instead of apologizing she proceeded to act very sensitive and insulted. She claims she needed to unwind, and that she was going to go home and cry. Despite getting used to the fact that the wider world thinks my body has no boundaries, I am a very touch positive person, but after this experience, I didn’t want anybody to touch me. Even the act of simply shaking hands later on that day made my skin crawl.
I shouldn’t have to get used to the fact that the world views me as an object, without boundaries and without the ability to consent. People should use their words instead of their hands. People should except no without getting in their feelings. Ultimately, if you wouldn’t do it to your friend, your sister, or wouldn’t want anyone doing it to you, you shouldn’t be doing it to someone with a disability. Think before you speak, ask before you touch, truly listen to responses and be willing to grow past bias and misconceptions. It really is that simple.
Criminologist and Co-Director of Centre for Gender Studies at University of Sussex