You have all heard me rant about people petting Glacier without permission and my feelings on people needing to ask rather than just assume they have the right, but have I ever told you how irritating people are when they think it's okay to touch me? Not everyone does, and thank goodness they don't, but a select few seem to think that is all right to just touch me without warning. First of all, for a blind person that can be startling and not to mention quite offensive-I'm sure it's offensive for most people. I'm not talking a little pat on the arm or a touch on the shoulder to let me know a server is placing something in front of me, I am talking a full on frisking; at least that is what it feels like. It is quite invasive and very disrespectful. I don't think these people understand that what they are doing is dehumanising and makes me feel like a child. When did people stop thinking and just doing?
Today a friend and I went out for lunch and then I indulged in a fancy coffee from Starbucks. I don't do that often since my coffee cost just as much as my sandwich. We sat and chatted and just generally caught up as we have not seen each other since I left SC back in April. It was quite pleasant and Glacier was being incredibly good, just lying at my feet watching people pass us by. I commented to her how it was nice that I hadn't had to reprimand anyone for trying to pet him during this outing and incredibly, I didn't have to say "please don't pet him. He's working" once. What I did need to say was, "please don't pet me. I'm shopping." Well, I thought about saying it.
After our chat we headed to a store that I thoroughly enjoy. The clothes are so fun to look at. They are very tactile, which makes for an interesting combination of really nice, cool things and some very horrifying things. There was one top that had little fluffy material all over it. I asked my friend if she wanted to look like a turkey. Then she showed me a full body leotard. Are people really wearing those in public? I asked her if she was planning on doing gymnastics and both she and another customer burst out laughing. Oops, perhaps I should keep my commentary to myself. ;)
We moved through the store, friend handing me things to look at me manhandling clothes hanging on hangers. There were a few very nice dresses and we stopped to check them out. As my friend was describing a dress to me that I was holding in one hand and looking at with the other, the sales clerk came up and started talking to us. She was a bit pushy, but some sales clerks just are and so we just ignored the interruption. As my friend finished up explaining, which she did a great job I might add, the sales clerk said,
"let me help describe" and proceeded to touch my chest and side to demonstrate her point.
As I've said, I am sure she didn't realise that petting a stranger is not okay, but would she have described a piece to a sighted person by stroking their side or chest? I highly doubt it. What if I were a person who was extremely ticklish? What if I had a traumatic event in my life that made me uncomfortable with other people touching me? Even though I do not fall into either of these categories, it is still not okay for her to touch me without my permission. I'm actually quite a touchy feely kind of person and if she had asked to show me how the dress hung I would have probably said yes. When someone touches you without your permission, regardless of the intentions, it takes your power away and devalues you as a decision-making adult. So not cool.
I know some people may be thinking,
"whoa. A very strong reaction for such a small action,"
but it's not that easy.
If you were being touched all of the time without your permission, it would make you mad too. This happens more often than one would think. Once when out working with Jetta, I had someone come up, grab me by the arm, drag me across the street and say they were helping me cross. Turns out they deposited me on the wrong corner and I would have been lost if I didn't know the area well.
I understand that touching happens. For example, if someone is talking to me and to get my attention they touch my arm or shoulder. That is not stroking/petting/basic groping. When I refer to stroking/petting/groping, I am not referring to these touches as forms of inappropriate touching with regards to sexuality. They are inappropriate because the person touching seems to think there are no consequence to putting their hands on my body. It makes a person feel like their body is not their own. I have experienced many of my friends who are wheelchair users be patted on the head and even one person had the handles of their chair snatched up and start getting pushed down the street. These sorts of behaviors are not okay, but I do not think they will go away until disability is not regarded as negative/undesirable/inferior.
Whether we use mobility aids to get around or not, we do not desire to be touched just willy-nilly. If I walked up to some random person and started tapping their kid on the head or smearing my fingers on their glasses, it would be frowned upon. If I grabbed the steering wheel while someone was driving and jerked it, that would be frowned upon. If I ran my hand down a complete stranger's side and drew lines over their sternum, that would be frowned upon. If you wouldn't do it to an able-bodied person, don't do it to a disabled person and if you're unsure, ask! If you don't know, ask! There is nothing wrong with asking. It usually saves a lot of embarrassment for both parties. Please, just ask.