Melissa’s Story – ‘I sat at the back by myself and cried the entire 40 minutes home’.

It was my first night out independently without the support of my husband and with a group of women I did not know too well. It had taken me weeks to decide whether to attend and I kept changing my mind but plucked up the courage because I needed to make that first big step at some point.

It was a sit-down type of event that recreated the atmosphere of a prohibition style speakeasy, we had our own table where we could sit and enjoy the 1920’s Jazz and Cabaret acts. We also had travel arranged too and from the event – so for me it seemed like a great opportunity to kick off my social appearances again.

It was a lovely evening which did not end so well. Whilst everyone was preparing to get back on the coach to go home, I popped to the toilets and a blaring fire alarm sounded. What I didn’t know at the time was that the event security set this off in order to get people to leave the venue quicker and there was no actual emergency. Hurriedly and hobbling I tried to make my exit, but I was slowed down by my lack of mobility. 

One of the security staff a large imposing lady was shouting at me from across the room to get out and not even bother with the walking stick. I carried on trying to move faster and tripping over my own feet. She was shouting at me and then before I knew it was behind me pushing me along, shouting that I was a liability and shouldn’t be out in public. I was stunned and couldn’t find my words. A second security staff member noticed I was visibly distressed, he stepped in but only made matters worse by trying to pick me up and carry me down the stairs because the lifts were out of order. I pushed him away, trying my best to run outside.

I was weeping by the time I got to the coach, I couldn’t find my words to tell my friend what had happened. I sat at the back by myself and cried the entire 40 minutes home. I fled the coach when we returned back and locked myself in the toilets until my husband collected me. That really knocked my confidence and it took months for me to go out socially and rarely without my husband.

This was not the first or last time of non-consensual touching, but it was an incident which deeply affected me and continues to do so. I now make an exit plan as soon as I step foot in a venue and often find myself sat close to exits on edge waiting for the alarm.

Lara’s Story – ‘The worst is when they apologize by touching you again. Ugh.’

As a disabled woman who has an invisible impairment I often experience horrible reactions when I react to being touched.
It is both sensory and trauma based and it is a reaction I have no control over. I have learnt to cope with busy situations and accidental touching but sometimes even that is too much.
The worst is when they apologize by touching you again. Ugh.

Vi’s Story – ‘I didn’t require any assistance and would have asked my husband if I did need it’

I have a prosthetic right leg. I was getting into a canoe on a canal. My husband was already in the canoe. A man ran over to me and tried to help me into the canoe by holding my body despite the fact I didn’t require any assistance and would have asked my husband if I did need it

Shona’s Story – ‘she had been touched in an inappropriate and intimate place’

Shona was walking along a familiar street with her guide dog, when the dog suddenly slowed, Making her aware of a pavement obstacle. Shona could hear work going on ahead so stood for a minute until a man approached her.. he        explained that there was a ladder on the pavement but that he would give her assistance to get  past it. He then told Shona to take his hand to which she explained that she would hold his elbow so that he could guide her safely. As she took his elbow he grabbed her elbow and in doing so touched her rib cage. However accidental this may have been, Shona felt powerless in the situation and felt that her explanation  of how best to help had been ignored. She also felt that she had been touched in an inappropriate and intimate place, which would have been easily avoided had the person listen to her original advice. He then proceeded to walk past the lather not explaining that there was not enough space for the three of them including the dog. This led to both Shona and the dog becoming confused and disorientated as they were not able to use the skills of their partnership in the correct way as they would have normally done when using sighted guide.
Shona wishes that people would #justaskdon’tgrab, but also Wants to stress the importance of listening when a disabled person tells you how best to be helpful and respond appropriately.

Pippa’s Story – ‘people touch me all the time and get angry, confused or openly mock me when I ask them not to’

I am a woman who does a job involving heavy lifting. I also have multiple allergies.
Now that we are entering summer my work life is a bit hellish, as people touch me all the time and get angry, confused or openly mock me when I ask them not to. It is hot, really hot and I am doing a job which is not helped by the fact that if I take my jacket off, my skin will be exposed.
Because I have as yet found no way to get random people to stop touching me, I am going to have to continue to wearing my jacket. I am getting dehydrated, I am feeling sick all the time.

As if this is not obnoxious enough, some people (I have noticed especially old women) seem to feel a need to seek out exposed skin and touch it. They go for my hands, even when I tell them not to they do it all the more. I blister, my skin bleeds, my hands are sore. I am quite frankly sick of this.
My allergies include lanolin (skin cream), lactase (a ton of skin products and hand wash), pollen (hand cream again, perfume, hand wash again) and both kinds of dust mites (because why not).

I am going deaf from excessive production of mucus. My skin hurts where I am touched. Stop touching people you don’t know.

This is without the unwanted sexual contact. I am touched in the neck, rubbed down the arm, stroked in the back. It is creepy. I am a short woman, it’s intimidating and it’s creepy.

Celia’s Story – ‘you don’t know what men might do’

I was on the bus one evening going to work. A clearly drunk man chose to hold the arm I hold my crutch with, as I was waiting to get off the bus. I told him to let go of my arm as I needed that arm for my crutch and that he shouldn’t touch without asking. He let go but I walked as quickly as I could once off the bus because you don’t know what men might do.

Aisha’s Story – ‘I am not hurting anybody else, I would like a society that refrains from hurting me. ‘

I was walking at my normal slow pace with my walking stick along the pavement and a mobility scooter user (nice person) was coming the other way. I had more than enough space to change direction and move out of the nice person’s way, and started to do so, but then a nasty person who was in the process of overtaking me thrust their arm out and pushed me off the pavement into the road to make way for the nice person. The nice person apologised but the nasty person seemed to think they had done the right thing, and kept their arm there until the nice person had passed. Then the nasty person walked away, not looking back at me. I had no energy to respond to any of this and just had to stand there and then slowly make my way back on to the pavement. I was lucky that I only ended up in the bike lane and there were no bikes coming.

I felt anger and confusion and embarrassment. There is no such thing as a disability hierarchy and yet here is another able-bodied person feeling good about themselves for deciding which one of us was less capable at that point. I thought that maybe the nasty person didn’t see my stick, and thought I was being rude, and then felt defensive about their decision and decided to stick with it not apologise, but why should I be rationalising their movements? The nice person was more than capable of asking one or both of us to kindly make room for them, and they didn’t because they could see that I was in the process of turning. The nasty person could have come to the conclusion that there might be a reason why I’m walking so slowly (or could have clocked the darn walking stick), and recognised that I needed more time to move out of the way. This is a concurrent experience in my life – I need to stop letting people off for these things as that usually means that the blame shifts onto myself.

In my wider experience, the ability to walk seems to be a sign of a higher position in the fake disability hierarchy. But what if I find walking difficult? What if I’m in a lot of pain? What if I simply can’t afford a wheelchair? What if I have a changeable position and I’m okay right now but know that I’m going to crash in a minute? Another thing that comes into this is age – I am below 25 years old and this also seems to signal HEALTH to anyone and everyone who doesn’t understand that young people can be sick too.

I’m sick (pun intended) of people assuming that they know more about my condition than I do. I’m tired (pun also intended – I have M.E.) of not being allowed the space to move through the world at my own pace, in whatever way is easiest for me. As long as I am not hurting anybody else, I would like a society that refrains from hurting me.

Edie’s Story part 2 – ‘Men are far less likely to hassle women who have a man with them’

I’ve been at the point where I mostly need a wheelchair to go out for years, and I can’t self-propel. So I always have my partner pushing my wheelchair, and despite the life-endangering assault by the driver some years ago, I feel a lot safer for that. Men are far less likely to hassle women who have a man with them, and people also take you more seriously if you have a man to back up what you’re saying. On the rare occasions I walk with a stick (not this year, I think, not past pottering in the garden), I hold his arm on the other side. I’m mostly bedbound so I don’t get out much anyway, and the worsening PTSD has increased that effect. I haven’t been on public transport in years: far too exhausting and painful, high chance of not getting a space, high chance of verbal abuse. 

Having a man push your wheelchair creates a protective barrier between you and the outside world. Wheelchairs do that anyway, although there are far fewer spaces you can get into with them, especially here in Edinburgh. It’s more trouble for people to get into your personal space, and harder for them to get as close.

But people do not give enough space for wheelchair users. It’s normal for us to have to weave around people in the street, even when they see us coming. The thing about how women get out of the way for men no longer applies if the man is pushing a wheelchair, we get blocked by people of all genders. I avoid crowded areas, which in Edinburgh covers a lot of ground during the summer. Accessibility is poor and I’ve been tipped out of my wheelchair by bad cobbling or a bad step twice. 

The worst was when there was a scaffolding tunnel on my road, over a fairly narrow bit of pavement. I’m a bit claustrophobic anyway and it tended to give me the horrors, but it was between my flat and my partner’s so we went through it. One day there were three men chatting in that tunnel, blocking it even for a pedestrian. They watched us approach. They deliberately waited until we got all the way up to them and stopped, because they wanted to make us ask them to move out of the way. I think they were really enjoying the power over us, while I had to keep assessing whether we were about to be attacked. After that, we crossed the road twice to avoid using that tunnel. I’d been feeling silly for fussing about it before, there was a TV show we’d been watching where there was a serial killer who killed women in a white underpass, but that show tapped into a universal fear for women for good reason.

I grew up in London, where we all thought sexual assault on public transport was normal by the age of fourteen (I wasn’t yet disabled). I’m more scared of going out now than I was then. 

Ash’s Story – ‘The whole experience was horrible’

I was using a wheelchair for the first time at an airport since my health declined. A fellow passenger also requiring airport assistance asked “what was wrong” with me and said I am too young and pretty to be in a wheelchair. Whilst on the buggy to the gate she asked intrusive questions regarding my condition and asked what medications I took and if I had taken any today. On the flight whilst using a wheelchair from the airline, she tried to take over from my partner and push me to the bathroom! He of course took control of the situation and didn’t allow this. On the way back from the toilet we could hear her discussing my health with one of the air stewardesses and discussing the fact that I was unwell on the flight and couldn’t eat. When we departed the flight we got away from her as quickly as possible. The whole experience was horrible and now makes me very nervous when I am in a chair and a stranger tries to talk to me.

Lucy’s story – ‘it has created an anxious negative association with crowds and strangers’

I’m a powerchair user (electric wheelchair user) and used to use mobility scooters before that as I can’t walk far. I have fibromyalgia and chronic pain amongst other issues since 2008. One of my symptoms is allodynia – which means that my nervous system is faulty and will send a pain signal instead of a “touch” signal – so even the lightest touch can feel like I’ve been punched, hit with a sledgehammer, tazered or shot. The pain is like a lightning bolt and can make my muscles go into agonising spasms. If I’m standing it can drop me to the ground.

For some reason when you are in a mobility scooter or wheelchair, complete strangers feel compelled to touch you all the time – constantly patting me EVEN when I’ve told them not to, such as saying “please don’t touch, it HURTS”, they’ll then reach out to pat me AGAIN in response, either in apology or as if I’m being silly. I often wear a badge by stick man communications that says “don’t touch me without asking. Thanks”, but it doesn’t always work. When people get too close I try to back away if possible, and if I can’t move my powerchair away I will visibly flinch away from them if they look like they are about to try and touch me, but often they just reach further to pat me even when it’s plainly obvious that I’m cringing away from it and raising my hands in defence.

I’m fortunate that it’s not really possbile to push a powerchair as the engaged motors also act as brakes – unless I’m moving the joystick, the wheels won’t turn, but it could lead to someone tipping me out if they were to suddenly try with enough force. Up until now I’ve managed to verbally stop people before they have managed to grab my wheelchair and told them “DON’T PUSH!”, such as when getting on a bus, or through a doorway. I have also had a sticker made up for the back of my powerchair which reads “DO NOT PUSH” accompanied by a stickman drawing of a wheelchair user being pushed by another person, in a red circle with red diagonal slash across it in a universal “do not” sign, for people who may not read English, especially useful if I’m on holiday.

It is the touching issue that is the worst though, when I’m out in a busy place with my partner, such as at a concert or other busy area, I’ll get him to walk directly behind me to protect me from people bumping into me or touching me from the back. It makes me incredibly nervous about being out and about because physical contact in the wrong place (like my back or upper arms) is so painful, it has created an anxious negative association with crowds and strangers – if every time you were in that situation someone poked you with a cattle prod, you would no doubt develop the same anxiety over contact by repeated negative reinforcement.