Sunday, March 16, 2008


It still creeps me out. I was touched, physically manhandled, and I didn't notice. Part of me wishes I didn't know, that Joe hadn't told me, that there wasn't even another way to feel vulnerable. But part of me is glad to have been put on alert - now I can be more watchful, more wary, more careful.

We had gone to one of those independant cinemas that show foreign films alongside other 'arthouse' kind of fare. I really wanted to take Joe to see "The Counterfeiters" because I knew that he would really enjoy it - it's his kind of film. This is no sacrafice because I knew I'd like it too. Parking was inconvenient, the disabled seating was more like sitting in a prisoners box in a British courtroom, and many of the patrons were snooty to the point of parody ... but that's the price you pay for wanting to see something out of the mainstream.

The movie was amazing. It managed to tell a story well, characteres were developed, themes explored, there was much to think about and even more to talk about. Going out of the theatre Joe was walking beside me, talking with me, as I was pushing myself towards the door. I didn't need his help because there was a slight slope and gravity was helping me move fairly quickly even though I was on carpet.

We got to the door, Joe held it open and I gave a mighty push to get over the small bump there and then I sailed on down to the side of the road. I put my brakes on and Joe went to get the car. That's what I thought happened. That's not what happened.

On the way back to the hotel in the car, Joe asked why I hadn't said anything to the man who grabbed the handles on the back of my wheelchair and pushed as I went through the door at the cinema. I immediately felt sick. Even maybe a little dirty. I had been touched, grabbed, pushed, and I didn't notice. I told Joe that I didn't notice him, anyone, touch the chair. I had been engrossed in our conversation, busy with pushing myself through the door, intent on getting down to the side of the road without Joe having to help. My mind was busy with other things, I didn't feel two hands touch me.

My wheelchair is a mobility aide. That's what it is when it's sitting empty at night. But when I'm in it, my wheelchair is me. Touch it, touch me. I have a 'thing' about touch. I think it's wonderful when it's wanted, I think it's abusive when it's not. I don't think there is much in between. As someone who's boundaries have not always been respected, I really care about them being respected now.

The intent of that man, the one who grabbed me, in his mind was probably 'Let me help' ... the result of his actions was 'Oh my God, I'm seen as helpless, vulnerable ...'

I still feel sick inside.


Unknown said...

I am not disabled myself Dave, and I'm sorry I have to take great efforts in trying to understand why a man who helps you makes you sad instead of happy. Maybe this is a "wrong" reaction, but even if my feelings about this event are wrong, they are spontaneous, powerful, true. So I hesitate before publishing my comment.

Anonymous said...

For the same reason you wouldn't like it if you were trying to reach something on a high shelf and a stranger lifted you to it without asking.

Kei said...

Ruth, perfect analogy.
Dave, I'm sorry this happened. It must have been difficult to perchieve since you were pushing hard yourself, unlike other times when you are moving along more slowly or even the times when you are at a standstill.

Anonymous said...

I hate this too Dave!
Although I use and electric and my PA's are usually 5 steps behind, I love the feeling of independence when going out and when someone stops to chat whether I know them well or not and they lean on my chair! GRRRRRR!
I feel the abuse that happened (maybe out of the goodness of a heart or possibly more likely out of impatience that grips our society!) is wrong! People should ALWAYS ask first! you wouldn't grab and old lady needing to cross the street ir you might feel the wrath of a huge purse full of humbugs cross your face! :) first you would ask!
Why is it different with us wheelies, do "they" think our ears are broken just because our legs don't work as well?
(((DAVE)))) <---- there is a cyber hug for you!

Anonymous said...

your story reminded of something that happened a few weeks ago, a colleague and I were visiting a client together and I was feeling panicky aboutgetting back to the main road as it was all iced up. I'm not currently using a chair but am terrified of falling and injuring either my pelvis or back.

He uses an electric wheelchair and stated he was driving back and would help me. I was to hold on to the arms of his chair and he would pull me safely over the ice. I wonder if anyone watching had realised who was helping whom.

When to help and how - I think we need to think about that one.

FridaWrites said...

Ooh, that makes me mad for you. That man had no right to touch you. I think people see anything different as public property. I remember it happening a lot when I was pregnant as well.

FridaWrites said...

And I do mean anything--not anyone--they see the object, the equipment, the physical difference, not the person.

lina said...

Baffles me, wanting to be helpfull, while entering someone's space and doing it without even saying so, let alone asking.
Still baffles the mind!.......

Suelle said...

I'm sorry that man did that to you. But I'm glad that you write about the things that happen to you--you help educate people like myself every time I read your blog.
I also like your description of touch being good or bad. That sums up my feelings on it also.

Shan said...

I was thinking about this post yesterday when my daughter kept messing around with my glasses. She thought she was being funny, trying to take them off my face, poking her fingers on the lenses, lifting them up and down quickly so I felt a bit sick. I kept pushing her hands away and finally burst out with an exasperated "Leave those alone! I need them to see and I don't like you touching them!"

Not the same thing, but I understood how you felt about your personal space and your vulnerability to the interference of others.

Anonymous said...

It's not just about being seen as helpless, it's about respect. I know this was written a while ago, but I just had to say something.

I've always been small, and I once had a friend who wanted to see if she could pick me up. Okay, no problem...

Except that then, she didn't let me down, and instead she and some other "friends" passed me back and forth.

I know it's not the same thing, but it's all about personal space and respect. He may have been trying to "help", but his action shows him to be disrespectful.

Jennifer said...

Hey. This is an ancient post in internet time.

But I went to the X-Files premier with my friend, and we were walking along, and I guess her bag dragged a little on the ground and then started to fall out of the her under-chair basket... and this guy berated me for not helping her because she 'couldn't do anything.'

I almost fell over because to me she is one of the most capable people I've ever met. What was I supposed to do, grab her chair and stop her and fix her bag for her and...? She's an adult woman. Sure, sometimes I get TP stuck to my shoe... but I don't think the edge of a bag getting caught means she needs OMG HELP.

This is an amazing and kind of disturbing post because I hate it when people take liberties with my personal space... I can't imagine what it would be like for someone to grab you and just haul you along because you were on wheels. WTF, humanity.