Hands Off: Defining Consent as a person with a Disability

Dear readers,
I want to address all of you today on an issue that has received considerable media attention in recent weeks in the wake of the Stanford rape case but that has largely (if unintentionally) excluded people with disabilities from the conversation. I want to talk to you about consent—more specifically, the questions and challenges that arise around the ways that people with disabilities negotiate consent.

In conversations about rape culture, we often discuss the all-too familiar problem of victim-blaming. Victims dress a certain way, speak a certain way, exhibit specific body language, consume too much alcohol, or otherwise “invite” acts of sexual violence. We also address the argument of self-defense; people question (and victims often question themselves) how they might have defended themselves against unwanted advances, which still places blame on the victim. If the victim had screamed, called for help, or physically retaliated, the attack wouldn’t have occurred. Yet any of you reading this who has found yourself receiving unwanted sexual advances can affirm that such claims fail to take into account how fear and shock can be immobilizing sensations, particularly if you’ve been physically restrained or overpowered by your attacker.

This question of self-defense holds particular relevance within the disabled community, for however independently we function, we can’t deny that our various disabilities can sometimes impact our physical mobility, including the ability to anticipate or react to threatening situations. I can only speak for myself and others in the blind and visually impaired community, and we face specific concerns regarding consent that the sighted community takes largely for granted. Anyone who has ever been physically intimate with someone, or even exchanged casual flirtation, knows that the rhythms of physical intimacy and communication rely as much on visual cues and the ability to read body language as on tactile cues. People show interest in one another, for instance, by smiling or making eye contact. The blind or visually impaired, on the other hand, can’t rely on such signals. In a relaxed social or professional environment where we feel comfortable, we often appreciate it, for example, when someone touches our shoulder or arm in a loud room if we can’t hear that person calling us by name. Yet many of us can also agree that we don’t appreciate being touched without warning, particularly by someone we don’t know well—even someone we do.

We all have varying levels of comfort with personal space. If I know you well, I will probably hug you; if I’ve never met you, I will more likely shake your hand and keep my distance. I don’t exhibit this body language out of rudeness, but more out of the desire to maintain the degree of personal space that meets my comfort level.

Physical and sexual intimacy have their own set of personal space ground rules. If you can’t see another person, you can’t see that person reaching to drape an arm over your shoulders, or to take your hand, or to lean in for a kiss. As such, that gesture might catch you off guard if the person you’re with doesn’t announce his or her intention. Recently I found myself in this precise situation. I was spending time with someone I trusted; he wanted to be physically intimate. While I gave my initial consent (initial being the operative word) to be touched, I decided not to move any further when he became rough and I felt uncomfortable. I attempted to stop him; he continued despite my protests. He insisted that he thought I was enjoying it; he insisted that I had given him mixed signals; he insisted that “nothing” had happened because he didn’t remove his clothes, so apparently, lying on top of me and pulling my hair constitutes “nothing.” His argument bore all the hallmarks of classic apologism—making excuses for his behavior that shifted the blame off of himself and onto me.

In the aftermath of the situation, I wondered what more I might have done to protect myself. Why didn’t I scream? Why didn’t I hit him? Why didn’t I fight harder to extricate myself from him? These responses, responses in which we blame ourselves for the actions of others, are symptomatic of rape culture. Rape culture indoctrinates us with the belief that victims somehow bring sexual violence on themselves through the way they dress, speak, how much alcohol they drink, ETC., ETC., ETC.

Friends, I want to make this point crystal clear: you are never responsible for the actions another person makes toward you without your consent. Never trivialize or allow anyone else to trivialize actions that make you feel uncomfortable or threatened. If you don’t consent when someone wants to hold your hand, and that person insists that “it’s just holding hands,” that argument fails to take your comfort level into account. If the person grabs your hand anyway, you’re being touched without your consent. Trivializing any action that makes you uncomfortable sets up a highly dangerous slippery slope; it’s the reason why Brock Turner only received a 6-month prison sentence for “twenty minutes of action”—a phrase that disgustingly trivialized the rape he committed.

To return to the concern I raised earlier in this post that not having the benefit of reading nonverbal body language can complicate a blind or visually impaired person’s ability to anticipate behavior, people with disabilities are uniquely situated to invite conversation about consent. While sharing my experience with a few close friends, we discussed the fact that at the heart of rape culture lies the problem that we teach the importance of self-defense without teaching consent. A clear understanding of consent would help to mitigate, if not entirely alleviate the need to practice the constant vigilance we’re taught to practice. Because the challenges of reading body language create a greater need to communicate the importance of consent, having a frank conversation with others about your comfort level with physical intimacy can be a productive starting point. I, for instance, generally like to stipulate that someone ask before touching me for the first time. Relationship experience has taught me that, like anything else, once I become intimate with someone and he learns how to communicate physical affection in ways that I’m comfortable with, asking or alerting me to the fact that he’s going to touch me becomes unnecessary. Such conversations serve the dual purpose of educating others about best practices when interacting with a blind or visually impaired person and defining the perimeters of consent. If you lay down such perimeters, anyone who disregards them is acting without your consent. End of story. Anyone who genuinely wants to spend time in your company will respect your wishes.

On a side note, I want to add that we tend to discuss sexual violence along gendered lines of male aggressors and female victims; this wrongly implies that men aren’t victims of sexual violence. As a woman with a disability, my understanding of and response to this issue is naturally informed by my experiences as a woman; however, the rules of consent apply to both genders, and the concerns surrounding consent that I’ve raised here are by no means specific to women. Men with disabilities can and do share these concerns.

Question

How can people with disabilities find voice in the conversation about rape culture and sexual violence? Share your thoughts!

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Thanks for reading!

The Amazon Echo

Hi there! How are you? This isn’t mine, but I thought I’ would share it anyway.

Since none of us actually own an Amazon Echo I thought it would be wise to share a podcast from someone who does. He not only has one Echo, but three. Though, he says that he’s returning one of them soon… maybe. lol. His name is @richcav and we have his permission to use this.

Enjoy this podcast! Maybe in the next couple of weeks I can get the podcasts I’ve done uploaded. That way you’ll have new material. If you have any questions please contact him at the link above. You know, the one with his name on it? lol.

Thanks for letting us use this again, Rich! We really appreciate it. Thanks for reading everyone!

Where is everyone?

In recent months you may have noticed that there are no posts from us. I can’t tell you where anyone else is, or what they’re doing. However, I can tell you where I was. So here goes… something

It’s mostly been homework. Though, part of it has been related to my personal life. I know, I usually don’t talk about that kind of stuff on here, but in this case I feel like it’s necesary. Not to gain sympathy, but to let you know why I haven’t been posting and why I still won’t be for a while… maybe.

On Feb. 14 of this year my mom was rushed to the hospital because she couldn’t breath. I’ll save you all the boring details and the ones I don’t want to get into, but we thought she’d be okay. Especially because she was suppose to be released (she’d spent about ten days in the hospital at that point.) A few hours later she was rushed back to the hospital. On March second 2016 my mom died. It was unexpected because the Doctors had told us that it would happen. It was also unexpected because we all thought she would get better.

My mom inspired so many of my posts including, but not limited to one called “mom! I don’t know if I’d ever want to see”. Despite all my criticisims she was a great mom and she did the best she could. I’m going to miss her a lot and I know she’s in a better place now.

I’ve left this blog in the very capable hands of a couple of other admins and I think them for taking this over. I can’t tell you why they haven’t been posting, but that’s why there has been a very large lack of posts from me. Thanks guys for running this thing. lol.

I can tell you that we have been working behind the scenes on some things that could turn out to be really cool. (well some of us have anyway) If we can ever get it off the ground. I’m so excited for it. 🙂 So rest assured that even though, we haven’t been posting much we’re definitely working on some cool stuff.

Thanks for reading!

MCrem doesn't work.

On December 1st I posted this little gym for those who don’t know what this is here is a basic summary. It is a tool to remove Macafee without sighted help from your windows computer. This only works with the anti-virus software though which is totally inaccessible to us blind folks. (Now I sound like an old lady) lol.

However it doesn’t work. That’s right this little tool that I was so proud of doesn’t work. 🙁 Poor us!

How do I know. I ran it three times at least and still can’t access windows defender. Yesterday a notification came up on my windows 10 machine (wwhich is where I was trying to remove the inaccessible software from. That pesky software! lol.) that said that my trial was about to run out. My trial of Macalfea I mean, um… Macafee that is. *runs away screaming*

I want this off my system. Anyone got any solutions that actually work? Maybe I just need a working pair of eyes. ahhhhh! Can mine just start working now? Please!

Thanks for reading!

Mom I don't know if I'd ever want to see.

The other night I heard my mom talking to her best friend on the phone. She was saying “I wish Stephanie could have that kind of surgery done. So she could see.” She was talking about corrective surgery. More specifically she was talking about the surgery that her best friend’s daughter had several years ago in which she got a new set of corneas or something. Thus, rendering her able to drive and do all the normal things that sighted people take for granted. (I’m not bitter. I swear!

Here’s the thing I can’t have that sort of surgery. Because my retinas are detached. I know, I know they’re working on fixing it, but here’s the second thing. I’m not sure I’d want to be able to see

I know, you’re probably asking yourself why I wouldn’t want to be able to see. It’s the same thing that my eye doctor asked me when I said the exact same thing sitting in his office chair. So here goes my explanation.

The truth is that I can see some, but it’s not exactly useful. I can see for example, the color yellow assuming that it’s bright enough for me to tell what it is, but I get other colors like red and pink mixed up. Sometimes, depending on whether my eyes want to cooperate I can see the various windows on a computer screen, but I can’t see any of the print inside, or on them. Sometimes I can see pictures, but I can’t identify the objects inside the photos.

That might be all well in good sounding to you, but consider this. The same vision that be so helpful except for print can be a disaster when traveling. I have been known to mistake driveways for curbs, alyways for streets ETC. That’s when I wish I had no vision.

Here’s the third thing. I’m not sure how much I’d be able to see, or how effective it would be. I kind of like where I am right now and I’m not sure I want to change it. I mean maybe I’d be like Algernon in flowers for Algernon and it would work for a bit, then reverse itself and I’d lose all my sight. (Ten points if you get that reference)

Which brings me to todays question:
Would you rather be fully sighted, or stay as you are? What if the surgery doesn’t work?
Thanks for reading!

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