I frequently speak on disability awareness, the intersection between disability and sexuality, and other such awesome topics. One big part of that when speaking to able bodied folks is talking about how to make their education and workshops that THEY provide more accessible overall. Here are some quick tips to think about when writing/talking/presenting, whether around sexuality or anything else. Remember, it’s ok to mess up — I still do it sometimes. NO one is perfect, no one is an expert. This being said, take a moment to review the things you do and say, the language you use, and how you market your classes, and let’s work on recognizing able bodied privilege and working on reducing ableism in our communities.
Think about your language! Lots and lots of words and phrases in the English language come from an ableist perspective. Some are easy to call out; using retarded is not ok, period. Others have wormed their way in more sneakily — calling something lame is ableist, as is calling something (or someone) dumb. Idiot is also quite ableist, although not as obvious to most people. Another HUGE ableist word (and one I myself am still working on removing from my vocabulary, since it is so ingrained) is the use of the words crazy, insane, etc. Lots of people have issues that present mentally; who are we, lay people, to decide what sanity looks like? Saying someone is wearing a crazy outfit, or is insane because they are working to hard IS ableist, as prevalent as the language is in our culture.
Another way ableist language comes up as lot is in doing activities. Rather than say “everyone please stand” you can say things like “if everyone who can stand will please do so.” Instead of “please walk around the room” you can say “please move around the room.” Blanket statements like “everyone has two hands” might be less of an issue in small groups where you can see if people have two hands, but if you don’t know your audience, don’t make assumptions about what limbs people do or do not have. Bethany Stevens, JD, is great at modeling access in her presentations introductions, and I’ve totally started doing it. Saying “can everyone who can see, see me ok?” and “can everyone who can hear, hear me ok?” is much more inclusive than “can everyone hear and see me ok?” I also make sure to let everyone know that I am open to requests for accommodations throughout the presentation and/or activities.
When you’re scheduling workshops, think about where they are at. If they are not physically accessible (either for wheelchair users, or anyone with a cane, crutches, or knee/hip/foot/ankle issues), you should probably put that on your flier/adverts. On that same note, if it IS accessible, put that on there — people love to know they are thought about and welcome. If it is somewhere in the middle, like there is a rear ramp somewhere, or you have burly folk willing to assist anyone who needs it, let people know that too. Even if you cannot find a perfectly accessible place (frequent in queer and kinky communities, or when working with non-profits who have to rely on donations of space), the fact that you are acknowledging accessibility is a huge step, and many PWD, myself included, can then make an informed decision about what attending will look like. Also, if you’re willing to provide an ASL interpreter, or describe the pictures/power point slides, make sure people know how to request those accommodations in advance, so that they don’t show up just crossing their fingers you have ASL savvy folks on staff.
People learn in different ways (Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences) and everyone processes at different speeds and in different ways. Regardless of who may or may not be in your audience, make sure to repeat your take home messages and important points more than once, and if possible, in more than one way. This will help EVERYONE “get” it better than if you just rattle off facts from your power point.
Know that some folks with disabilities comes with service dogs, or what I like to call service people. Sometimes, we need help getting in, getting settled, getting around, taking notes, making sure we understood what was said, having advocates, having people to carry our stuff, etc. Being respectful to us also means being respectful to our companions, whether of the furry or human variety. If someone mentions they’ll be attending with a service animal (or human), reserving a seat on the end of a row for the dog is generally appreciated. On the same note, if someone needs to see the ASL interpreter, or has vision issues and needs to be close to something to see it (and brings this up), making sure they get a spot close to the front shows consideration.
Having resources available in your area is awesome. Know who the sex positive doctors are; ones that aren’t going to flinch when someone says “how can I have sex safely, given that I have _____ or this condition?” Think about accessible spaces (accessible can mean lots of things; ADA, near public transit, affordable, etc) where people can get sex ed, and have their questions answered. Know who provides cognitive level appropriate sex education to folks with various developmental disabilities? Where can someone with disabilities (and/or their partner) find a local support group? Are their gynecologists near by who offer accessible exam tables to folks with mobility issues? This is just a start, but if you have answers to these questions, it’s a great place to get going.
These are just some very very very basic tips. I would love to hear other thoughts and suggestions on combating ableism in sex education (or education as a whole), as well as questions that other folks might have about providing inclusive settings. Let the discussion begin!