Oct 312011
 

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!

-Shanna

 

Oct 282010
 

A few weeks ago, I sat down and spoke with Laurie Handlers on her weekly tantric radio show Tantra Cafe about the intersections of sexuality and disability. We talk about how insurances don’t cover many things related to sexuality/disability, how to look at redefining what sex means and how it feels best and works for you, as well as other things across the the spectrum of sexuality and disability.

Click here to listen to my radio interview on Tantra Cafe.

Shanna

May 092010
 

Hey all!

As you may remember, I was working (and still am) on an anthology about sexuality and disability, tentatively titled Sexual Ability. I posted a Call for Submissions, I had people repost it, but got very few essays.

For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. Similar anthology calls were getting dozens if not more pieces submitted. I’d made sure to mirror mine in a very professional, academic way, covering many of the topics, and all of the requirements.

And a few months back, a message I got on FetLife answered my question. And I feel so stupid for having not realized this.

Because of the subject matter, I was screwing myself over. I wanted people who had disabilites to write about their struggles with them, and how it was sometimes difficult fitting sexuality into their lives…in an academic way, with lots of thoughts and edits and _____.

There are many problems with this. First of all, it was a classist call. Why? Because not everyone has the background and/or ability to write an academically styled essay. If you didn’t have the opportunity to go to college (none the less grad school), how would you even know where to get started?

And secondly, I’m asking people for who (in some case) they may get completely drained just getting to the kitchen to put forth a huge amount of thought and effort. How unfair is that?

So I re-examined, re-looked at my concept, and have decided to do a survey of people with disabilities and their partners, where they can just fill in a sheet of questions when they feel up to it, as much or as little in the way of answers as they’d like. And then I will put this information I gather in this informal qualitative survey and put it together into a book celebrating sexuality and dis/ability. Thank you to Tristan Taormino for her suggestions on survey length, approaching people, etc.

So without any more rigamorale, here is the Sexually Able Call for Participants. Please feel free to re-post anywhere and everywhere. I’d love to get not only a large number of responses, but also a very diverse one.

-Shanna

Call for Participants: Sexually Able

Sexually Able aims to bring light upon sexuality and dis/ability, and create a path for peoples’ voices to be heard.

What is it? It’s a large scale survey of self identified people with disabilities and their partners.  Eventually, it’ll be turned into a book for people to read, enjoy and see the rich and diverse sexuality that is within the disability community.

Why is this needed? As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, there is still a large gap in people’s minds when they think about sexuality as it relates to people with disabilities, whether cognitively or physically. While some studies have been performed regarding the potential for differently-able people to lead satisfying sexual lives, in which satisfying seems to center around the ability to orgasm, very little has been written about the experiences involving the sexualities and experiences of people who identify as people with disabilities/ handicapped/disabled/differently-able, as well as their partners.

People of all ability levels are sexual beings. Sex is hard enough to navigate and negotiate when one fits in with society’s notions of what a sexual being is, but once you add in the concept of ability, it can become quite challenge. This book, through these surveys, seeks to bring forward the stories, challenges and experiences of people of various ability levels and their partners, putting a face on the trials that so many valuable members of our society must face and the positive experiences as well. By sharing the experiences of the dis/ability community in relation to sexuality, Sexually Able hopes to challenge people’s viewpoints, foster discussion and conversation, and open doors towards a shift in the social constructions surrounding sexuality and disability.

What does it involve?

Just fill out one of the surveys (for people with disabilities or for partners of PWD), send it in, and have your voice and experiences heard. You’re welcome to take your time, and fill in as much or as little information as you’d like. If you need assistance in completing your survey, please let us know. Please feel free to pass this site/these surveys on to your friends, lovers, support groups, therapists, doctors, caregivers, and anyone else that may identify as having a disability or as a partner of someone with a disability.

For more information and/or to fill out the surveys, please visit http://sexuallyable.wordpress.com. Questions? Email SexuallyAbleBook@gmail.com.

Who is behind Sexually Able?

Shanna Katz M.Ed is a full spectrum sexuality educator with a Master’s of Human Sexuality Education from Widener University. She is currently based in Phoenix, AZ, is the resident sexuality educator for Fascinations, and a member of AASECT (the American Association of Sexuality Educator, Counselors and Therapists). As a sexuality educator, she travels the country teaching workshops at colleges, sex toy stores, dungeons, sexuality conferences and more.

Shanna has a special interest in working in sexuality and dis/ability, and runs workshops and discussions about the intersection of these identities, how to build sex positivity in communities of PWD, negotiating disability in a BDSM context and more.  She’s also working on an anthology regarding sexuality and dis/ability, entitled Sexual Ability.  Please see the call for submissions to submit an essay.

Note on definitions of disability (or the lack of): This survey is for those who identify as someone with a disability, someone who is disable, someone who is differently able, any other such identity and the partners of the former. There is no hierarchy of disability, nor is there any exact definition. If you identify as one of the aforementioned, please feel free to take the survey.