Something I have noticed and experienced since becoming disabled is the lack of boundaries able-bodied people have around us. They cross personal boundaries in ways that they wouldn’t dare to cross with other able-bodied people.
One thing is when it comes to mobility aids. For many disabled people, our mobility aids are a part of us, no matter if it is a cane, walker, rollator, wheelchair…doesn’t matter. If it is a mobility aid, it is like a part of us. So when someone touches it or moves it without consent, its not cool. Its fine if something like a cane falls and you pick it up out of reflex, but it is not fine if the person is resting their cane somewhere (which of course would be near us) and you decide to move it. The same goes for all the other mobility aids used, especially wheelchairs. DO NOT move a wheelchair user. If they are in the way, politely ask them to move. Don’t just grab their chair and move them. You wouldn’t grab a stranger by the shoulders and make them move, don’t grab a person’s wheelchair and move it.
People seem to think its okay to ask really invasive questions too. Why do you need that? What’s wrong with you? Granted, those may seem like such innocent questions, but they aren’t when they are coming from complete strangers. Disabled people do not owe anyone any personal information what so ever. If we volunteer it, then fine. Or ask the person if you can ask them some questions, but don’t be pissed if they tell you no. I can’t stand when random people ask me why I’m disabled, why I’m sick, if I’ll get better, why I need a mobility aid. I need to learn to tell them that its none of their business. I had someone not too long ago feel the need to interrogate me as to why I need my cane, what my disability is, why I’m sick, in Walmart of all places. And I felt very violated. I gave vague answers, but I wish I had just told them that it is none of their business. “Why do you need the cane?” “Because I do.” that’s how it should go next time. I hope.
Unnecessary help is something I think all of us disabled people deal with. People think that they are “helping” when in reality, they are making things worse. Instead of automatically helping a disabled person, ask them if they need help. And if they tell you no thank you, don’t get pissed. Chances are, your “help” may do more harm than good. This can be anything from trying to grab a door while a disabled person is trying to open/go through them, getting a mobility aid out of a car, carrying something, there are so many things this could pertain to. Not only can you risk injuring the disabled person, but chances are, they already have a way of doing whatever they are doing without help.
DO NOT TOUCH A DISABLED PERSON WITHOUT CONSENT! Oh my gosh, I do not know why people automatically think its okay to touch me. No. Do not pat my hand or shoulder. Do not hug me. Do not touch me without consent! Again, this goes for mobility aids too. I’ve legit had someone LEAN on my wheelchair and hold one of the handles. A COMPLETE STRANGER! I couldn’t move! And I had no idea what to do! They just stood next to me and thought it was totally okay! I’d compare that to the equivalent of a stranger putting their arm around your upper back and leaning most of their body weight on you. Doesn’t that sound really uncomfortable? It is, trust me. I’m going to add personal space here as well. I don’t feel like I’m ever given a normal amount of personal space, especially when using my rollator or wheelchair. I know these mobility aids take up more space, but give me that space! I hate feeling like I’m going to hit someone with my rollator, and I have run over quite a few toes with my wheelchair. People just don’t give enough space between me and them. I honestly don’t know what the deal is. Then there are the times when people act like I’m not even there. Like last year at Warped Tour. I was in my wheelchair, of course, and someone tripped over me to get to my sister to tell her how awesome her hair is. Now, my sister’s hair is awesome. Its bright pink and she always has it up really cute, I’m super jealous of her hair. But the girl could have gone around me instead of trying to step over my legs, which she ended up tripping over, and hurt my ankle. Seriously.
Also, do not take pictures of disabled people without asking. This has never happened to me (that I know of), but it has happened to others in the disabled community. Able-bodied people will take pictures of disabled people do everyday things and post it as “inspiration”. Able-bodied people have also taken pictures of disabled people doing things like getting out of their wheelchair. This is not okay. And its really creepy.
I’m going to add this on as well… DO NOT DISTRACT SERVICE DOGS! If you see a service dog in public, they are working. They are keeping their human safe. If you distract them or touch them without their human’s permission, their human could have a medical emergency while their service dog is distracted and could get seriously hurt. I know its exciting to see a dog in the store, or maybe you feel bad for them because they have to work, but do not acknowledge the dog! Trust me, these dogs LOVE what they do, and they get lots of playtime and snuggles at home. Off duty, they get spoiled. This is partly why I don’t have a service dog. I was thinking about getting one, but personally, I couldn’t deal with ignorant people coming up to me all the time and/or distracting my dog. It would take too much out of me and it would frustrate me. Which is sad because I could really benefit from having one, but I would not be able to deal with people if I had one.
Honestly, if you are ever unsure about something, just ask for consent. May I move your wheelchair? May I ask why you need that mobility aid? Would you like my help? May I give you a hug? Can I pat your service dog? And don’t be shocked if the answer is no. Our lives may be different than yours, all you can do at the end of the day is respect that.