Jun 112018
 

So many yays and thank-yous to Kirsten Schultz for working so hard on this and reporting their progress every step of the way. Kirsten isn’t the only person to speak up about this, but they were one of the most vocal. Kirsten’s involvement is also notable because they’re not a guide dog (or any service dog) user, and, as far as I know, they aren’t visually impaired. Yay for cross-disability solidarity!

Here’s what Stonewall has apparently promised:

They’ve apologized and will be offering an ADA training for bars and clubs in the area. They are going to have the disability rights lawyer they’re working with go over a variety of accessibility issues with them.

They’re also going to make donations via their charity to a disability org.

Wonder if they’ll follow through.

Here’s Kirsten’s whole post about the apology.

Jun 072018
 

On the one hand, service dog refusals still happen everywhere – even though guide dogs have been a thing in the U.S. for about 90 years. So, that a blind person, looking to spend an evening at the bar with some friends, was turned away because the bouncers didn’t want to let them in with their guide dog shouldn’t really surprise any of us. Call it a statistical probability.

On the other hand – at Stonewall? At bloody Stonewall? (Yes, I’m shouting.)

At a place that saw such a powerful uprising against prejudice and discrimination?

Give me a break!

On the one hand, we know that marginalized groups discriminate against folks from other marginalized groups all the time. Being atarget for prejudice doesn’t automatically make someone a fighter against prejudice. It doesn’t even make someone aware of the prejudices they carry. So, someone representing a pillar of the LGBTQ+ community showing blatant disregard for the laws and rights protecting another person shouldn’t come as any sort of surprise. (Blatant disregard is fancy-talk for didn’t-give-a-crap.)

On the other hand, discrimination at an iconic LGBTQ+ bar? Discrimination by people who, as a friend put it, didn’t want to stop to listen or do their job.. Discrimination witnessed by a whole host of people waiting to get in, and none of them knew to (or felt moved to) speak up in support of one of their own.

It’s enfuriating, and unnecessary!

The community can and should do better around this. When will the anger at an incidence of discrimination against a disabled person filter down to nondisabled (and visibly nondisabled) folks?

Here’s the whole story.

May 082018
 

This post isn’t about anything nice, and definitely not about anything sexy.

But, we need to talk about eugenics.

Eugenics isn’t just that horrid thing that happened a long, long time ago in the Holocaust of World War II.

Well, it started a long time ago, and has shown up in one form or another all over the world – but there’s pretty convincing evidence that the Nazis got the idea from us – us being power-hungry people in the United States. I mean, they probably would have come up with it on their own, but we gave them the blueprint.

We basically showed them how to do it. A bunch of U.S. lawmakers and medical administrators worked federal law in their favour, trying over and over until they found a way to make sterilizing people against their will legal, and easy.

If you want to know more, key “Supreme Court Buck V Bell” into any search engine. Or, read this amazingly well-researched, fascinating, horrifying book: Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck.

I’ve got my nerdy, vaguely ironic voice out because this stuff is freaking terrifying and is heart-breaking enough that I want to hold it at mental arm’s length. But I can’t. There aren’t yet enough people who know this history. As I wrote about here, even the sweepingly broad, powerful, far-reaching work of reproductive justice is missing vital pieces of this history.

And, there aren’t yet enough people who know that acts of eugenics, especially unconsented sterilization of disabled people, are still happening.

Why am I talking about this here? How does this relate to sexuality? When we know, for those of us who do know, about eugenics, about forced sterilizations, about the effort to make us not exist and the belief that we shouldn’t exist – for those of us who know all these things – it messes with how we view our own bodies, how we relate to others (including potential lovers), and how we connect to ourselves. It impacts the trust we have in the healthcare system, the way we approach reproductive choices, the way we approach parenting, or the decisions we make about whether to find help from social or healthcare services are keep going it on our own because the potential for judgment, the potential for being seen as less than human, is just too great.

Disabilities advocate Sassy Outwater puts it this way: “That idea
that someone could willfully prevent my body from having children just because I was disabled, even if it was only a historical thing, and is over now…
that never left my mind as I grew up.” Read the rest of this important commentary here and the post the inspired her thoughts.

Apr 152018
 

This piece on disability and sexual assault was published in 2010, long before hashtag movements and mainstream coverage. It’s 2018, and, honestly, I don’t feel as if we’ve made any sort of significant cultural shift.

Each April, we observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Every year we learn about at least one more documentary, local or regional anti-violence organization, or awareness campaign aimed at stopping the nightmare of sexual assault and abuse, or at helping victims of violence pick up the pieces

We’re churning out “awareness” essays and videos until they’re foaming up around our ears, and I have to ask: “Is it making a difference?”

Is there any less sexualized violence?

Are disabled folks facing any less ableism (read: disbelief, dismissal, lack of accessible services) when they seek help after an assault?

What does it mean to empower people if the basic culture permitting sexualized violence hasn’t changed?

I’m a disabled woman with a lot of disabled friends, and I’m tired of feeling fear for them.

I’m a disabled woman with a lot of disabled friends, and I’m tired of my heart hurting because most of them have abuse lurking in their pasts – and for all the friends who’ve shared with me, there are (probably) just as many who haven’t.

I mine the Internet for pieces like the one linked below, and I feel overwhelmed by the sameness of it all. It feels like nothing is changing, except that we have more data to link to, more essays and opinion pieces to show us the variety of chaotic things that happen in a world that sees disability as a failing, or at least as an insurmountable difference, a world that is so broken around sexuality and sexual expression that I don’t know if we’ll ever succeed in turning the tide away from abuse of power. At least, maybe, the sheer numbers of stories supply the data disbelievers always ask for, the “proof” that sexualized violence is a problem, that disabled folks are at horrible risk of being assaulted…

We’re smack dab in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I look at all the data, trying to find the progress, and wind up just shaking my head.

At least we now give voice to sexual victimization being something that touches people of all genders, not just women.

Here’s your dose of disability history-making for the weekend.

Mar 102018
 

The Internet is giant! It’s a library that will never get full (at least, I hope it won’t) and has decades of material. Most of us can barely get through news (fake or not) and opinions posted each day, let alone find the gems of the past. This week’s post is from Dave Hingsburger, published way back in 2006. (I think that makes it about 500 years old in Internet-time.) Dave started his blog that year, and has been writing, almost daily, since then.

I’ve written before about how much I admire Dave’s work.

He was one of the first to publicly (at great risk to his career) give voice to the fact that people with developmental or intellectual disabilities are sexual beings, that they have the right to have their loves and desires acknowledged and supported.

Here he is, doing that support.

Today I’m going shopping for a dildo and a butt plug – on work time, on a work mission. There are times I love working in the area of sexuality. This is one of them.

The weird thing is that when I’m actually in the store looking for the purchase, I get kind of shy. I want to yell out “I’M HERE IN A PROFESSIONAL CAPACITY AS A THERAPIST WORKING WITH THOSE WHO ONCE HAD THEIR SEXUALITY REPRESSED – THESE ARE NOT FOR ME!!!”

Read the rest of this terrific post.

Feb 252018
 

Everybody’s getting in on the “let’s publish sex and disability articles” deal these days.

Query Google (or your favourite search engine) for “sex and disability,” and your top results will almost always be from major online and print publications, and will date from the last four or five years. I’m not complaining about this. It’s fantastic that sexuality and disability, separately and together, are getting so much air time.

But like all good things, we didn’t create this conversation from scratch. Today’s voices aren’t the sexuality and disability pioneers the clickbait headlines want us to think they are. Years, decades really, of confabs in living rooms, at conferences, and later on online bulletin boards and chatrooms got us to this point.

Some of these conversations are lost in people’s memories. Some are hiding in obscure, or out-of-print books. And then there’s the Internet, the decades-old Internet with all it’s treasures. Remember, people were getting online in the early 90s, and I’d argue, with no evidence whatsoever, that disabled folks were some of the first to realize how powerful online spaces would be.

So, yes, the Internet, full of treasure – sometimes buried, sometimes obvious, sometimes forever lost to the ubiquitous “404. Page not found” message, which usually shows up when there’s a particularly enticing title and meta-description.

I’ve been digging these online and offline gems out for a while now, and it’s time for me to stop hoarding and start sharing. (though come to think of it, treasure-seeking pirates are usually portrayed as disabled…one eye? artificial leg? Yup, disabled.) So, maybe hoarding is just what we treasure-seekers do.

First stop: FWD (feminists with disabilities) for a way forward

FWD/Forward published essays, interviews, and opinion pieces on feminist and disability topics, “in response to the lack of disability content in online feminist spaces.” They were live from 2009-2011, and closed due to lack of community support. It takes more than passion and commitment to keep a Web site running.

Fortunately for us, some generous soul has archived everything and is keeping the site live…for which I’m incredibly grateful. I was pretty active online when FWD/Forward was happening – and I had no idea they existed. There really aren’t words for how sad this makes me. I could have learned a lot about writing and advocacy from these folks. This was important work being done, and valuable people to know.

I can, and do, get lost in this site for hours. I’ll probably share more favourite pieces over the coming months, but, first, this excellent introduction to disability and sexuality.
Disability and Sexuality 101, or, Do disabled people have sex?

The reason PWD aren’t considered as sexual – particularly “visibly” disabled PWD – is that the idea of “the perfect body” as the only sexual body dominates popular discourse. Additionally, we have the stereotypes of PWD as pathetic or stoic, far removed from the sexual. Not to mention the fact that disabled people tend to be shoved away from the general public. This idea is not due to some inherent aspect of disability that negates sexuality, it’s just bigotry. The lack of recognition for PWDs’ sexuality has meant, less so in recent years, that a lot of PWD aren’t given appropriate sex education. Without proper sex ed, it’s harder to take charge of one’s own sexual life and body. This lack of information has its role in enabling the high rates of abuse against PWD. There is a lot of horrific policing of the bodies and sexuality of disabled women in particular, as you’ll read about on this blog in less 101-type discussions.

And this…this is one case where you do want to read the comments. There’s so much good, honest, thoughtful dialogue here. At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, there’s a strong feeling of connection I just don’t get from so many online conversations today.

If you have a sex and disability resource you’d like to see get more attention – a favourite article, book, academic paper, or what have you, hit the contact form at the bottom of this page and send it my way, please. Remember, I’m looking for older, or more obscure material – let’s say anything more than five years old.

Feb 202018
 

Sexual healthcare is vital for anyone and everyone who’s sexually active, but, between inadequate research, inaccesible buildings and equipment, inexperienced and insensitive healthcare providers, and a whole bunch of other factors, most people with disabilities aren’t getting their sexual healthcare needs met. Before I read this article from the Disability Visibility Project, I knew that logically. It’s my job to know it.

Still, after reading, I’m left without words at the level of trauma and incompetence the writer’s doctors subjected her to. She wound up having major surgery that she might not have needed had she had the same level of access to preventive gynecological care that most nondisabled folks do. I’ll let you read the rest of her story yourself. I salute this woman’s bravery! She’s been through way too much!

And, she’s not the only one. Folks of all genders face these kinds of barriers to healthcare everyday. Biases against LGBQ or transgender folks, or racist attitudes or behaviours, or stigmas against folks who are homeless or unemployed – it all happens within the healthcare system (as well as everywhere else), and can mean the difference between getting quality or lackluster care, or even getting care at all.

Every day, people with disabilities aren’t getting the healthcare they need because the healthcare system isn’t set up to serve everyone’s physical needs, and providers aren’t being trained to recognize their own unconscious biases against disability so they can treat disabled patients with proficiency, and respect.

Ad our culture’s shame around anything sex-related, and prevailing beliefs that disabled people aren’t (or shouldn’t be) sexual, into the mix, and we have a sexual and reproductive healthcare system that is basically broken for people with disabilities.

We need to change this, to ensure that researchers and clinicians know about currently available resources, to inspire researchers to investigate best gynecological practices for all bodies, to make sure healthcare providers have training and experience before they leave school, again with all minds and bodies.

Feb 102018
 

One of the major stressors on disabled people’s relationships is negative (or even incorrect) attitudes and beliefs about disability from outsiders. Yup, it’s the people who have no business commenting on the relationship, or who have no clue about disability, that get most in the way of disabled folks’ intimate lives and partnerships.
Sometimes it’s direct interference – such as the people who make comments about stuff that’s none of their business, or even “warn” a nondisabled person to not get too involved with the disabled person they’re dating or falling in love with

Sometimes the interference comes less from in-your-face comments, and comes more from knowing the negative unsupportive attitudes are out there – and feeling pressure to prove those assumptions wrong.

A prevailing myth about disabled people is that we don’t have a lot to offer a romantic partner, and that we’ll be an energy drain on anyone who gets involved with us. The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability puts it way more bluntly, saying that the prevailing myth about disabled people and relationships is: “People living with disabilities and chronic illnesses are pathetic choices for partners.” Sometimes people make up stories to explain to themselves what they’re seeing, turning our spouses or partners into our friends, siblings, parents, or even payed caregivers. People make up stories about how a disabled person’s inability to wash the dishes, or bathe themselves, or scrub the kitchen floor translates into that person’s inability to be a supportive, responsible partner.

There’s also this general myth about how to be a great friend, lover, life partner – or even child or sibling – really it touches any relationship we’re in, and it basically says that the way we show care towards each other involves doing things for each other. This leaves out all the emotional, psychological, and even spiritual stuff that makes up the structure of a relationship between any two (or more) human beings.

The Real Story: All relationships are about give and take, and while (sometimes) that give and take looks different when disability is thrown into the mix, there’s nothing about disabled people that makes us less able to, or less interested in, caring for our partners. There’s no rule that says that being able to wash the dishes is the only way to show your boyfriend you care, or that being able to bathe yourself without assistance is a requirement for a mutual care-filled long-term partnership.

So, yes, knowing that people believe us to be less-than (or believe us to be wonderful, just not a wonderful marriage prospect for their daughter, brother, best friend) is stressful. We’re trying to fight stereotypes, and, you know, actually do the work (and the fun) that goes along with being in a relationship. Sometimes that balancing act isn’t so balanced.

Sassy Outwater talks about this beautifully over at Acsexyble.

I reflexively almost push back too hard when in a relationship with an able-bodied partner, try to do more for myself, as if I’ve almost adopted this attitude of not wanting them to fall into a caregiver role. I have to catch myself and work really hard at not doing this, because it’s destructive to self-confidence and relationships.

Click here to read the rest of the post.

Jan 182018
 

It happens when parents send their gay children to “conversion therapy” to “turn them straight.” It happens when doctors withhold sexual health information, or sterilize a patient without that patient’s informed consent. It happens when the medical establishment performs medically unnecessary surgeries on babies because their genitals and other sex characteristics don’t match what medical textbooks say is “normal.” It happens when people with disabilities are denied sex education, or when disabled adults’ relationships are laughed off as “cute little friendships.” It happens when disabled people’s caregivers forbid relationships, separate lovers, and punish sexual exploration.

What happens?

People, usually people in power (like parents and teachers and doctors) are sending the loud and clear message: “We get to decide who you will be. We get to pass judgment on the essence of who you are.”

It’s not limited to people in power, though. Random strangers on the street make decisions about other people’s sexual choices, and sexual expression – it leads to everything from verbal taunts to profoundly horrific acts of violence.

What does this say? It says that the people around us – the ones we trust (or are supposed to trust), and the ones we don’t even know that some of those people believe they own our bodies.

This judgment, this control, this manipulation or ridicule – it all snapped into focus for me when I read this blog post from Dave Hingsburger, drawing parallels between the criminalization of LGBQ and transgender folks and the absolute, often punishing control, that’s been exerted over the sexual lives of people with intellectual disabilities.

It’s the idea of ownership, that people who make these sweeping and controlling judgments of sexual expression are acting like they own another person’s body, as if it’s right and normal to take this ownership, as if they have, or want, “ownership over another persons body, another persons heart and another persons choices.”

Jan 052018
 
A magnifying glass, for looking closer at what's right in front of us.

I wrote a while back about the multi-layered and inexcusable discrimination many disabled parents face.

There’s nothing about having a disability that makes someone less capable of parenting.ser

That feels too obvious to even say, but it’s a truth, obvious or not, that needs to be repeated over and over until people get it, until disabled parents
don’t have to fight tooth and nail to be able to care for their own children.

But, expecting and new parents with disabilities usually face doubt, or invasive questioning, or inadequate services, or loss of child custody, or months- or years-long court cases fighting for parental rights (usually while the child lives in foster care). These actions are taken, we’re told, to protect children. But these situations are usually about disability, not about child welfare. They’re about assuming that disabled adults themselves aren’t any more capable than children. They’re aboutthe lack of education legal, medical, and social service professionals get about disability, and about how that lack leaves room for personal biases. They’re about these same professionals knowingly or unknowingly setting disabled parents up to fail the “tests” put to them to judge their parenting fitness, by not providing parenting information in accessible formats (Braille, audio, large print, plain language) or by not providing accessible equipment (such as a changing table with the right set-up for a wheelchair user needs to reach everything and keep the baby safe).

Now, a new law in Illinois spells out the rights of blind and vision-impaired parents.

Under this law, social workers, lawyers and judges (and anyone else involved in child custody proceedings) won’t be able to use a parent’s blindness as evidence that they should or shouldn’t be given custody, and blindness cannot be a factor in evaluating a person’s fitness to become a foster or adoptive parent.

This law establishes “procedural safeguards that require adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Yes, you read that right. A state law was drawn up and enacted to make sure a nearly 28-year-old federal law is followed. Not just that, but the Americans With Disabilities Act protects people with many kinds of disabilities. This law focuses only on blind parents.

Why not more inclusive? I don’t know, except to guess that whoever proposed this law has a personal stake in making sure that blind parents aren’t discriminated against. That’s awesome, but I wish they’d been more forward thinking to include all recognized disabilities, or at least some categories, such as sensory and physical disabilities.

As it stands now, this extra state protection applies to only a small part of the disabled parent population. If you’re blind, and you’re an Illinois resident, you’re good, but, knowing that disability discrimination touches everyone, and that it can have disastrous consequences when children are involved, I can’t help wishing that the time and effort taken to draw up extra legal protections couldn’t be used to create protections that are more wide-ranging.

On the hopeful side, perhaps the passing of this law will raise awareness among policy-makers and activists.

***

For more data on parents with disabilities in the United States, check out this post I wrote about the 2016 White House Forum on Parents With Disability. (Just an aside: It’s hard to imagine this forum happening in the current political climate.)

Or, see why I included parenting in target=”_blank”>this list of “need to know” data for healthcare providers.