I don’t like being touched. In truth, I never have, but I think my hatred of it has perhaps increased as I’ve gotten older, or the results of it are much more apparent. I hate the feeling of strangers making physical contact with me, it makes me feel sick, like my skin is crawling and I want to curl up in a quiet space alone. There are people who I am comfortable having contact with, my parents and sister, close friends and most small children are ok. But when other people make contact with me I am left feeling really uncomfortable.
This wouldn’t be too much of an issue, except I am visibly disabled. As a blind person, people rush to give me assistance when they perceive it is needed even though most of the time that isn’t the case. I am looking for a doorway and someone comes up to me, grabs my hand and leads me where they think I want to go. Stepping on and off trains strangers will reach to take my hands, or shoulders, or even grab me round the waist. I struggle to navigate the world without unwanted physical contact.
Most of the time they don’t ask, but even when they do and I politely decline their help they still insist on giving it to me. I am not allowed to make decisions about my own body because I am blind, and how could I possibly understand what kind of help I require? People don’t realise that by taking hold of me they are both violating my right to personal autonomy and causing me extreme anxiety, because they have broken the barrier of personal space I fight to maintain.
If I accept someone’s help I know they may make physical contact with me. I might offer them my hand so they can put it on the back of a chair, or I’ll take their arm so they can guide me somewhere. This is my choice. I have made the decision to both allow them into my personal space and let them assist me with something. It is my right to make these choices, and yet so often people don’t consider it to be so.
If you offer a disabled person assistance please respect their answer. You may think they need your help, but they best understand their own requirements. If they say no, respect that this is their answer and they have given it for a reason. I can’t emphasise enough how unwanted help firstly feels like a violation of my space and secondly can actually lead to me being in danger. Please always, always ask. And if I say no, understand that it is my choice to do so.