There. I said it.
As disabled people, we talk a lot about intentions and how we should react to them. A non-disabled person started pushing your wheelchair, thinking they were helping. They took the arm of a blind person and walked them across the road, even though the person said they were ok. They picked someone who used a mobility aid up, depositing them on the bus.
Yes, these things have all happened. And I’m sure all of the people in those situations thought they were helping…but what if they weren’t?
What if the wheelchair user felt like they had no control over their own movement? What if the blind person felt upset that someone had made unwanted physical contact with them? What if the user of the cane felt embarrassed and like a child, because a stranger had picked them up?
What matters more? The good intentions of the stranger, or the feelings of the disabled person?
I believe that our feelings as disabled individuals matter more, and please hear me out on this.
Intentions are important. I want people to care about the disabled population, to see us as valuable members of society. I want the non-disabled world to extend their hand to me, to help me in the ways they would anyone. In short, I care about kindness and I believe it is vital.
But I also care about my personal space, my integrity and autonomy as a young woman. And I believe I have a right to care about those things. I’ve experienced a lot of resistance when speaking out about this, and ironically most of all it has come from the blind community. I’ve been told I should let people help me even when it’s not wanted, because if I say no it may put them off helping another blind person again. I should respond to all situations with positivity, because it’s my choice how I react.
To an extent, this is true. I can choose to accept someone’s help or not. But I can’t choose how I feel about doing so. If accepting that help, if letting someone put their hands on me makes me uncomfortable then that’s not a choice. It is self-preservation, a deep, internal understanding of what I am ok with as an individual. I was taught, like many young girls to be aware of my surroundings. Is someone following me? How should I react if a stranger grabs me from behind? I can’t compromise any of these things on the off chance that the person is a well-meaning member of the public, determined to help me. I must put my safety first.
And that is why intentions don’t matter, not when they compromise my sense of security. If a stranger asks if I need help and I say no, and they respect my answer, there is nothing wrong with the situation. I am not angry that people want to help me, even if I think it is misguided. Sometimes I may need assistance, and will accept it. But all too often I, and other disabled individuals aren’t given a choice. Society is so hell-bent on helping us that they forget to ask us first. Their belief that we must need the assistance comes above our autonomy as individuals.
And in those situations, intentions really don’t matter. Because whilst they may be good they forget that I am a person, with my own mind and right to choose where I go.
Thank you to my wonderful friend Ashley for providing the title of this post. And to my dad for listening and understanding, for always affirming my own sense of self, and for being the best ally I could ask for.