People like to be helpful. We like to imagine that we’re the knight in shining armor, that we see someone in need and swoop in without needing to be asked, but the truth is that consent isn’t just for sexual or romantic situations (or at least, it shouldn’t be).
This woman’s post about the unsolicited “assistance” she and her disabled fiancee get when they’re out and about perfectly illustrates why you should always ask before helping a stranger.
A little background; I am engaged to (I’ll call him Frank) a full time wheelchair user. We have been together for 2 years, he is mostly independent but obviously does struggle with things, especially when we’re out.
This is something that has happened more than once, and every time we get the same reaction when we ask people to stop; very annoyed strangers.
She describes how, when they’re out and people perceive that her fiance is struggling, they help without asking – and when her fiance asks them to stop, they get offended.
When we’re out shopping or walking or on holiday sometimes things like curbs, getting in and out of the car if we’re on a slope or getting up and down small steps gets tricky. Now Frank knows what he’s about, he’s pretty nifty in his wheelchair and doesn’t often need help with these things. BUT people go up to him, grab his chair and pull him / push him without asking, because they think they’re helping.
He always says something along the lines of “please let go, I don’t need help” if they had asked he would just say “no I don’t need help”, and that would be the end of it. Sometimes he does get a bit cross (I say a bit, he doesn’t shout or swear, it just annoys him), and asks them to leave him alone they normally get super defensive and get cross back.
A recent incident, where a stranger actually grabbed her fiance and wouldn’t let go, despite him asking her to repeatedly, had her in tears.
What prompted me to write this here is what happened a few days ago. He was getting in the car in a car park and a stranger literally walked up behind him, grabbed his back and pushed him into the car. I was loading the boot and hadn’t noticed her walk over to us, but she definitely didn’t ask permission because the first I knew anything was happening was Frank saying “get off me, I don’t know you and don’t want you touching me.”
I looked up and she was still holding him round his waist. I said something along the lines of “what are you doing, could you let go please”, she didn’t let go, continued to “help” him in and replied “well if you were helping I wouldn’t have needed to. His chair was tipping onto the floor” (when he gets in the car without help, his chair does a bit of a wobble, but it won’t fall)
This made me feel pretty angry and Frank wasn’t happy either, as you can probably guess being in a relationship with someone in a wheelchair can be tough, and having strangers judge me is not fair at all. We didn’t say anything back to her, I put his chair in the car, got in the car myself and cried.
She’s wondering whether or not the right thing to do is to just remember that people are well-meaning, grit her teeth, and bear it.
Now I understand that these people might think they’re helping, but I also think that because he’s seen as “disabled” somehow that takes away his right to refuse help. And I do think that if we say no this isn’t ok they might rethink their actions if they are in the same situation again.
Are we the assholes for being annoyed? Should we just accept they mean no harm? Sometimes I do think to myself they don’t mean to be harmful, and it happens so often I do wonder whether we’re in the wrong to be cross about it.
The people of Reddit have some thoughts, and they’re nearly as indignant as my own.
I had no idea this was a thing but it for sure needs to stop.
Apparently humans in general need this training.
The bottom line is that it’s harmful behavior.
He should just scream bloody murder.
My mouth is just hanging open right now.
Do we need some kind of PSAs about this stuff? I would have thought “don’t touch strangers without asking” was like, understood, but apparently not.
If you’ve got a bright idea for how to mitigate this for folks, tell me about it in the comments.