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!



May 092011

Surprisingly, there are some trends that I tend to notice in sex educators, particularly those of us that do alternative/non-traditional education. Many of us identify as women (cis and trans). Many of us have red hair. Many of us are queer (and many of those queer educators are fierce queer femmes). There are quite a few who are Jewish (religiously or culturally). Quite a few have curly hair. A bunch of us majored in either sociology or women/feminist and gender studies. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but to many of us.

Another trend I’ve noticed is that many sex educators are also suffering from chronic pain. Some of us also have other disabilities (such as me and my patella femoral osteoarthritis and debilitating migraines), and some of us are more open about it than others. However, a LOT of a us have it, and given the nature of this field, this can present more problems than one might think.

When I am booked, I don’t always have transit from the airport to the location, or the hotel. I’m not asking for every place I go to rent me a car, but to tell me (politely, of course) that there is great public transit in your city, and it will only take me 45 minutes (or sometimes up to two hours) by train/bus/lightrail/metro/walking/etc doesn’t always take into account the fact that my body is often screaming in pain by the time I get to the airport, deal with my luggage, go through security, take the underground train, wait in airport seats, squish into airline seats, carry my carry ons through the airport, struggle to get my luggage off the carousel, and make it to the curb. Some days I take a wheelchair through the airport just to be able to save my spoons. Some days I don’t, but that often means I don’t have the energy or pain tolerance to then cart my luggage (while walking with a cane), through public transit through a city that I don’t know, and argue with people for a seat because I don’t look “disabled enough” to need one, particularly as a younger person. A hotel with a shuttle is great, but often, because many toy stores and dungeons don’t cover accommodations, I am stay with a friend, or at a cheap motel that doesn’t offer this service. Asking me if I need a ride from the airport to the store/dungeon/center/hotel would be incredibly appreciated, and you’d get a much better presentation from me, as I won’t have to struggle between taking my pain meds, or pushing through the pain to do my workshop.

Another thing frequently happens on college campuses. Students are often used to traversing college campuses as the bird flies; up and down stairs, across grassy and/or gravely quads, etc. When I have to do this, frequently while carrying a suitcase of sex toys, handouts, stuffed vulvas, etc, it is completely draining, and I feel guilty when I have to ask them to slow down, take ramps (especially given that I am not in a wheelchair, and don’t usually feel like explaining my medical situation to some 20 year old I’ve just met). The same goes for booking me in a historic building with lots of stairs and no elevator, or one with an elevator, but just assuming that I can take the stairs.

I love what I do. I’m ok with not being met with a limo at the airport. I’m fine with not staying in 5 star hotels — if my hosts can put me up on their couch or spare bedroom to make it more affordable, I’m happy to do that. However, the little things, like getting place to place, are what frustrate me. My last trip to San Francisco, I paid more using cabs to get to/from the places I was speaking than I actually made speaking at them. The idea that everyone is traditionally able bodies, full of energy, and doesn’t have any issues like disability or chronic pain making it more difficult to hop on public transit is an ableist concept. A wonderful sexuality educator recently experienced this on an international trip, where after 24 hours of air travel and airport waiting, she was then told to take another 2 hours on public transit to get to the city…for a workshop she was doing for free. I’ve been in similar (although not international…yet) circumstances, and I have to make the choice between breaking down in tears at the epic journey in front of me, or sucking it up and paying money for a cab or a shuttle, even though I often am in the red from presenting in general.

So please, if you’re someone booking an educator (or really, anyone), please think before you suggest. It’s ok to say something like “are you comfortable taking public transit?” to feel them out. But know that when you ask, you might hear no (for a plethora of reasons), and if you hear a no, that’s when it’s time to figure out another way. Ask your staff, ask your fellow students, use your resources, but figure out a way to get them from place A (usually an airport or train station) to place B (usually your store/college/center/dungeon/etc or maybe a hotel) that doesn’t involve an arduous journey that may end in exhaustion, frustration, and/or tears.