Today Mister Pawpower and I walked to a near by coffee shop for the usual bagels and hangman. After I had ordered my tea, I asked the employee behind the counter if there was space to sit on the bottom floor. The area is small, and I didn't want to go plowing in there with dogs and drinks and whatnot if I was just going to turn around and head back out due to lack of space. The store employee comes around from behind the counter and I told him that he didn't need to do that, just tell me if there were people back there; my dog can find a seat.
Instead of listening to me, this individual grabbed the sleeve of my coat and like a master with a dog on a leash, he started toward the seating area, towing me behind him, and with my dog confusedly trying to figure out what, exactly was going on. I stopped, removed my arm from his grip, and told him that either my dog would follow him, or that he could just answer my question of seating room, and I'd take care of finding the seat myself.
Apparently some people who can hear are deafer than I am, because once again! He grabbed me by the sleeve, starting out toward the seating area. I stopped, removed the sleeve from his hand, and said:
"Sir? Just for what it's worth, it is never appropriate, productive, safe, nor at all in good taste to grab a person without their consent and haul them around by either a piece of clothing or a body part. I appreciate that you are trying to help, but I have tried to get your attention several times and you continue to ignore me. Do not touch me. If you want to lead me somewhere, allow me to tell you how to accomplish this, and then follow my instructions when I give them."
Yes, I am sure many people are cringing right now because I was terribly rude, and he was "only trying to help." I respect that people want to help, but help should never be forced, and it should never put either party in danger.
If you were to look at me, you would never know that I have a hidden disability. My inner ear disease causes problems with balance and vertigo; thereby making walking or standing a huge chore, not just something I do without thinking. If someone wants to guide me, there are very specific ways in which they can do that. Safer, more comfortable ways. Grabbing my arm also means that my dog can't do her jobs properly.
I don't understand why people seem to think that the "normal laws" of physical contact don't apply to people with disabilities. If I walked up to a "normal" person, who asked me for directions, and I then grabbed that person by the arm or by their shirt and started yanking them in the general direction of their destination without even a word of by your leave or instruction, I would probably land in handcuffs at the most, or at the least get punched on the nose. However if this happened to a person with a disability, then it becomes generally accepted-- even smiled upon-- because the person doing the dragging is so kind and wonderful to help!
Many of my newly blind clients feel guilty or "wrong" about not accepting help, or if they do accept help, then they don't have the "right" to ask the person to do it in a way that isn't dangerous or frightening. It is still your body, even though you have a disability. If you don't like what someone is doing with your body, tell them to stop. If someone continues to help in ways which are unwanted, then you have the right to make it known that you don't like it. People with disabilities are not baggage, tugged and towed from here to there.
People often ask me the following question:
"What is the best way to help a person with a disability?"
Here is my answer.
First, ask if the person needs help. If they say no, don't take it personally, but just accept that the person has it covered and their way of doing something may look more difficult or differently than the way you do the same task, but that they are doing it and would like to do it themselves. If you ask and the person does want help, then either wait for the person to tell you how, exactly, you can help them, or ask the question yourself.
Do not grab or try to "move" someone as if they were a piece of furniture. If you need someone to move, ask, and then use words like "left" and "right" to indicate the direction. Do not ever move someone's cane/walker/wheelchair/crutches without asking. If you need the object moved, ask the person what they would like to do-- e.g. move it themselves, or get help. Just communicate, and listen!
And yes, before someone says it, the guy I yelled at today will probably not be in a hurry to help another person with a disability. But I think that might not be a huge loss!