About three months ago, I started a brand new job. I love my job, the people I work with, the location… all of it. Working in a big building downtown wasn’t something I ever thought I’d do again, but I’m thrilled to be where I am. Jenny and I have been welcomed with open arms by colleagues, managers, building regulars, fellow transit passengers… just about everyone.
But working in a big crowded building also brings to the forefront something every disabled person has dealt with at one time or another: the grabbers. Sure, I’ve dealt with them before in other jobs or other places, but working in a very large building open to the public 5 days a week puts me in touch with many amazing people… and many grabbers.
And you know what?
I’m done being nice to grabbers.
Over the span of the past month, I’ve had numerous encounters with someone (several someones) who thinks that grabbing my body to direct me is acceptable. My shoulders have been turned to direct me, someone steered me by the waist, my hands and arms have been grabbed so frequently (and at one point so hard) that I swear I can still feel marks on my body from the other person’s fingers. Depending on the situation, the closeness of quarters, and the willingness of the other party to observe both visual and verbal queues, my reaction is situationally specific, made in a split second, when I’m not stunned motionless and speechless by someone’s lack of personal boundaries.
But why should I have to think about it? Why should I need to make judgment calls on an appropriate reaction on a frequent basis simply because I have a disability and people get weirded out about it? Why should I have to be nice because someone “meant well”? Meaning well means asking first. Meaning well means listening to my response. Meaning well means not doing something that would reasonably get one punched, kicked, screamed at or sprayed in the face if the action was directed at anyone without a disability.
And think I’m exaggerating?
A blind friend on a facebook discussion on this very topic “only gets rudely grabbed twice a week or so.”
There is no ONLY!
This behavior is unacceptable. We can all agree that able-bodied people aren’t frequently grabbed, manhandled, pushed, prodded, or otherwise bodily manipulated. We can all agree that such behavior is wrong. So why does disability make it right? The fact that it happens so frequently to people with visible physical disabilities that we think it “only” happens twice a week or so should appall you. The only time to grab someone is if they are actually falling and you need to catch them, or you need to pull them back from real danger (like an oncoming bus a split second away). That does not happen twice a week or so.
My tongue bleeds sometimes from my biting all of this back, from keeping quiet, from being nice. If I had fingernails, the palm of my right hand would have half-moon shaped scars from clenching my fist in my pocket. But I’m done bleeding and scarring because of my own desire to blend in, to simply go about my day. Grabbers, you are the problem, and I’m done taking out my frustration on myself. I’m done being nice because being nice has gotten me – and society – nowhere. So your intentions don’t matter; keep your hands to yourself. I’m taking my equality into my own hands. A woman without a disability can fend off an attack? Your firm grip on my hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, hips, waist, or mobility aid without my knowledge or consent is an attack, and I will respond accordingly. If grabbing me is your way to ensure my safety, I plan on learning and training and finding out how I can keep myself safe… from you. You don’t ask me if I want your help; you think you can and should decide for me. That decision is not yours to make.