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Friday, 8 September, 2023

Please stop touching my wheelchair without my consent – it makes me feel violated and dehumanised – Glamour UK

As a wheelchair user, I have often experienced non-disabled strangers taking it upon themselves to grab my wheelchair without my consent and push me along. Recently, a man on a city street grabbed my wheelchair and started to push it without a word. I just kept saying, “No, no, no,” and searching my frazzled mind for a polite way to get him off me. Even in this desperate fear, I still searched for the “right” reaction. His face remained emotionless throughout, and he only let go when another non-disabled man saw my stricken face and told him forcefully to let go.

For weeks after, I feared leaving the house alone, fearing meeting the same man in the street or a more secluded area. I would think of his impassive face looming as he gripped my wheelchair and would stiffen if anyone got too close or tried to touch me. I felt an overwhelming sense of violation. I chastised myself for not doing more and not fighting back, but I’d been told not to, always to diffuse and placate.

Often, these non-disabled strangers, non-disabled men, will ignore my feelings—my visible dread.

I have experienced this behaviour in crowded public spaces, on public transport, and even on the street where I live, seconds from home. The emotions that arise from being in this situation are overwhelming and dehumanising. It isn’t only about being pushed. I have consented to people I trust pushing me and strangers in challenging situations. It’s about losing control over my mobility and body—losing the choice and ability to say no.

Unfortunately, this experience is all too familiar for many disabled people. Why do non-disabled people feel they have the right to invade personal space and control our bodies simply because we may have a physical difference? It’s a question I have asked myself and others throughout my life.

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