I have had so many experiences of
non-consensual contact as a wheelchair user I can barely remember them all. It
happens with alarming regularity and I am often viewed as overreacting or rude
if I take offence.
Someone once came up to me in the street and asked if I needed a push. When I replied that I didn’t they said “of course you do” and took hold of me like I didn’t know my own mind.
I have had countless incidents of people walking up behind me in the street and start pushing me without saying anything. It is terrifying as you don’t know what is happening and they refuse to believe you when you insist you don’t want help. I have had cause numerous times to shout at people to get off me, at which point they look at you like you’re the one with the issue.
I have had people not believe me when I’ve said I didn’t need their help. It really frustrates me when people can clearly see I am travelling around in public alone but still assume I need help. Not to mention the numerous times people ask if I need a push/try to push me then ask if I’m sure when I refuse, like I don’t know my own mind.
There have been too many times to count that people have leaned on my wheelchair or held onto it on busy public transport or in busy venues or crowds even though they would never lean on an able-bodied person. I have also been stepped over instead of asked to move over a bit so someone could get past.
I have also recently and many times previously had an experience in a bar when a drunk girl started trying to hold onto me and dance on my wheelchair like I’m an entertainment novelty. It’s one of the many reasons i don’t go out for nights out anymore.
I’m sure that these experiences are just the tip of the iceberg. I find that I now am on edge any time I have to be in crowded places or in public in general and end up having an aggressive reaction to any attempts to touch me because it never ends with people understanding that they are in the wrong or learning from it.
Criminologist and Co-Director of Centre for Gender Studies at University of Sussex