By Dawn M. Sanders

If I wrote a case-by-case story of every time I was either grabbed at or pushed this way or that, because of the way people often react to me as a woman with a visual impairment, on first sight – I could fill a library.

So, you would think I would be used to it – never!

It would seem that being a woman with a visual impairment, not only (in the main) strips you as potentially social/sexual material – a good majority of Jane/Joe public will immediately perceive you as helpless and child-like grabbing at you irrespective of whether you asked for help or not.

Standing waiting for a helping hand at Sainsbury’s the other day to do my weekly shopping, at the customer help desk, I was slightly out of the queue.

Okay, so all anyone needed to say was, move a little to the left. Instead, someone grabs my coat and of course I reacted – having just had my physical space accosted.

“What the hell?” I protested, but then she walked away murmuring “I’m not bothered.”

So, it apparently isn’t okay for me to protest, be offended or forthright, as another woman in the queue said the exhausted statement:

“She was only trying to help.” As I had reminded the first woman, the one who grabbed me that, she wasn’t ‘asking me’ anything – she was grabbing.

The second woman, who was clearly affronted by the fact I didn’t just accept being grabbed, spoke to me in this disgusted voice.

Once I got up from where I sat outside a pub to walk inside to the toilet – I was confident of how to get there, as someone had shown me the way.

Yet, as I walked past this guy’s table, he reached out and grabbed my arm. On that occasion, I had had enough and turned around and grabbed what ended up to be the hood of his coat.

“Now, how does that feel”, I said with flared fury. “Sorry” he said. I retorted: “good! And don’t do it again, ever!”

In this day and age of over-sensitivities and misinterpretations, if I was fully sighted, these types of behaviours would automatically be either taken as sexual-harassment or common assault.

Yet, being visually impaired seemingly renders you exempt from unwanted physical invasion, because societies ingrained perceptions are, that I or someone like me is automatically an object of ‘care’ or ‘needy’ rather than strong and capable.

I’m not saying for a second that I would prefer unwanted sexual advances to being grabbed out of the assumption of needing help by default – but why is it seemingly not okay to protect/defend my physical space?

People often can’t think of their left or right when trying to give simple directions.

So often what happens, is I get someone literally getting me by the shoulders and trying to turn me this way or that, as if I’m a rag doll or piece of inactive furniture, rather than a living, breathing person.

Again, I won’t allow it and anyone trying to permeate my physical space is likely to get told off or pushed away. It has got to the point when someone is trying to ‘turn me’ I physically stiffen/recoil and say, ‘um, just describe or say left or right’ – not rocket science…

Other visually impaired people don’t always see it as so invasive and, I’ve heard countless stories where someone was dragged somewhere, but without protest or taking charge of their own physical destiny in the situation.

I also get other visually impaired people suggesting to “chill out” when I’ve described how infuriating it is.

The underlying message seems to be, just accept it, it’s the way it is and take the help (whether you need it or not).

No thanks! I’ll take the high road and take charge of my person and physical presence. As far as I’m concerned – societal attitudes won’t change until people know ‘it’s not okay’ to grab, push or turn a visually impaired person any more than it is for someone sighted.

Confrontational? I think not, then that means it’s supposedly confrontational for a woman (or man) to defend themselves against physical handling be it sexual advance or otherwise.

Bottom line is: unless a visually impaired person asks for help – they more often than not don’t need it. I have been told from a male visually impaired ex-colleague, it happens more to his partner than it does to him. So as the age-old question goes: do men automatically carry more agency or presumed capability because of their sex – it would seem that way when it comes to men with a visual impairment…

I’ve been accused before by dial-a-ride drivers trying to bundle me into a vehicle or reach across me on the presumption I can’t do my own seatbelt, of ‘not liking to be touched’.

When I casually remind them I’m not an old lady just yet or, that doing their job should never mean a one-size-fits-all approach – they usually don’t like hearing it – the unpopular truth.

Of course I don’t mind being touched. A flirty peck on the lips or pinch of my butt would go down just fine that is, after a good chat-up and consensual connection…

So here’s a tip: next time a guy looks at a visually impaired woman on her own or detached, try talking/chatting up… Don’t ask “do you ‘need a hand’ unless she asks.



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