Do you really want to hurt me – respecting the physical boundaries of people with disabilities

They say love hurts. Sometimes just going out and being among people who don’t understand my disability hurts.

Last night I went out in a group of people. None of them know me very well and a few had not met me before. As I sat there, I suddenly saw one of the women gesturing wildly in my direction and became aware that something was going on behind me. Apparently someone had been trying to get my attention by tapping on my back. Since I lack sensation in parts of my body, I didn’t feel it. So of course I failed to respond. And, according to someone whom I talked to later, the man “tapping” me became impatient and began to hit my back.

I began to have spasms which is how I register pain. So there I am spasming and suddenly without warning in pain. I looked around and the person had stopped. I suppose he became afraid when he saw my body spasm; however, he was “huffy” about why I had “ignored” him. Yet, I did not realize anything was happening until I had the visual clue from my friend.

At times it can be a bit frightening to realize that there is no way to let everyone know what my physical limits are. Many not only assume I’m a paraplegic – but they also don’t realize that lack of sensation is part of some peoples’ spinal cord injury. However, ignorance of that fact never excuses the fact that someone fails to respect my personal boundaries. That is ableism.

This situation reminded me of the times when I’ve had my wheelchair kicked or people have tried to climb over me to get ahead of me in a crowd. People can get pretty physical when they feel I’m holding them up and when they act in these ways can injure a person in a wheelchair.

In general I trust that the world is a fairly benevolent place. Quite frankly, if I didn’t , I wouldn’t go out alone at all being a quadriplegic. I know many with my level of injury who don’t go out alone and I respect their choice. There can be a very real danger that comes from the refusal of some people to respect our boundaries as people with disabilities.

It is one thing not to understand a person’s disability and quite another to disrespect her physical boundaries.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan


Filed under essay

3 responses to “Do you really want to hurt me – respecting the physical boundaries of people with disabilities

  1. retiredwaif

    I just wanted to tell you that I’ve been reading your blog with a great deal of interest. I’m still at the semi-mobile “but you don’t look like there’s anything wrong with you!” stage of the game, but I’m starting to experience a few of these small degradations.

    I linked to your blog from my own ( and am looking forward to reading more.

  2. This is a great entry. Personal space is so important. It often feels to me as if the able feel that *since we have disabilites* people feel that that gives them license to push physical boundaries as you mention above, or to offer unsolicited advice on all sorts of private and personal matters that they wouldn’t dream of asking someone able…

    It just amazes me how often situations like this come up

  3. I love the picture up above of your site. It has calming effects on me. Thank you. I have Severe Manic Depression.

    Many friends currently are trying to see me through this and hopefully safely home someday to Georgia. I was looking on the web for Poems by people on Disability when I came upon your site and that picture grabbed me like I don’t believe nothing ever has in a long long time. It’s very beautiful.

    Ed Jackson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s