"If I was able-bodied and a man had picked me up, would I have had a different experience?"
This was the question Bronwyn Berg was left asking herself after a complete stranger came up behind her and started pushing her wheelchair. Despite shouting out to passers-by, nobody helped her.
If you're a wheelchair user yourself, or follow those who are on Twitter and other social media platforms, you'll know that this isn't an uncommon experience. Reframing it in the context of picking somebody up highlights how shocking this behaviour is, even if the person doing it thinks they're helping.
Image credit: Bronwyn Berg
But taking away someone's agency over their body and where they are going is not helpful at all. Doing this without asking or warning is even worse and illustrates the 'able-bodied hero' mentality - the notion that, because someone has an impairment, they must need your assistance. Sometimes they do, sometimes they do not. But asking is the only way you'll find out and, if someone says no, politely move on.
For Bronwyn, one way to deal with this situation was spikes! Yes, spikes. Her partner made these accessories, which remind us of our goth years (in all the right ways) for her wheelchair's handles. The spikes don't pierce the skin, but they're a pretty good indicator to non-disabled people that approaching someone from behind and taking control of their mode of transportation is unlikely to be met with acquiescence.
Likewise, touching someone; for example, a visually impaired or deaf person, is also not a good idea. If you need to get someone's attention, a light tap on the shoulder will suffice - and then use your words.
Have you ever experienced unwanted touching or been moved while out and about? What do you do to prevent this from happening, and what do you wish 'able-bodied' people would know about this spiky subject?