The outside world can present barriers for disabled people: one such barrier is having help forced upon you from non- disabled people. One woman is trying to combat this, encouraging well-meaning members of the public to Just Ask, Don’t Grab.
In 2018, Dr. Amy Kavanagh – who is visually impaired – began tweeting about her experiences as a new white cane user out in public, after people began grabbing her, thinking they were being helpful.
Creating the hashtag, #JustAskDontGrab, as a place for other disabled people to share their experiences, Amy’s campaign resonated with many people within the online disabled community who could relate to her experiences.
“I loved the new independence and confidence my white cane gave me, but as soon as I started using it I experienced people touching me without my consent,”Amy explains.
“I started tweeting about it to share the incidents and many other visually impaired and disabled people said they had similar experiences.
“The hashtag is a clear message to guide non-disabled people about how to offer assistance, and a mechanism for disabled people to share their experiences of unwanted touching and positive acts of support.”
Amy has been grabbed and pushed, pulled into train carriages and moving traffic, steered around shops and stopped on pavements to ask if she’s lost or needs help: situations that not only make her feel understandably unsafe and intimidated, but directly put her in danger, too.
“As a visually impaired person my mobility and independence are really important to me, so to constantly have people taking away my autonomy and making decisions for me without my consent is so humiliating,” says Amy.
“The worst part is the abuse if I challenge someone about their actions. Even a polite, firm request to stop touching me can be met with real aggression or hostility.”
Amy’s experiences in public are not unique, with her stories resonating with disabled people across the country and around the world.
“It’s been incredible to see people using the hashtag and sharing their
own experiences, good and bad,” Amy enthuses.
“So many people have contacted me online saying how pleased they are that someone is talking about the issue and that they also thought they were the only person that had these experiences.”
The campaign has raised awareness of acceptable approaches to help, with non-disabled people also using the hashtag to demonstrate what they’ve learned through the campaign.
“I hope the campaign changes perceptions about disabled people being incapable and constantly in need of interventions and support,” Amy says.
“One of the strongest messages I try to get across is that although polite respectful offers of help are welcome, I don’t always need help. Independence is so important to me and many other disabled people.
“I hope it challenges the stereotype of the ‘helpless’ vulnerable disabled person and reminds people that we have the same right to consent, boundaries and autonomy as everyone else.”
To read others’ stories, or reach out for solidarity, you can visit the hashtag #JustAskDontGrab on Twitter.