Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness for Persons with Disabilities

The Intersection of Disability and Abuse
December 6, 2017
International Women’s Day
March 8, 2018

By Madisson Bednark
February 12,2018

Sexual health is a broad area that encompasses many inter-related challenges and problems. Key issues and concerns related to sexual health are sexual pleasure, eroticism and sexual satisfaction, diseases (HIV/AIDS, STIs, RTIs), violence, female genital mutilation, sexual dysfunction, contraception, fertility, and parenting. Persons with disabilities have the same sexual and reproductive health needs as any other person, yet they often face barriers to information and services regarding sexual health. Remaining unaware of their bodies, and their rights to define what they do and do not want only further exposes them to increased vulnerability and abuse. Persons with disabilities represent a significant portion of the world’s population and are part of every community. Attention to the sexual and reproductive health needs for persons with disabilities is important to ensure the protection of their human rights, to move forward in building a truly inclusive society.

Barriers to Accessing Health Services

• Lack of physical access, including transportation and or proximity to clinics and within, clinics, lack of ramps, adapted examination tables,
• Lack of information and communication materials (e.g. lack of materials in Braille, large print, simple language, and pictures; lack of sign language interpreters)
• Health care providers negative attitudes
• Providers lack of knowledge and skills about person s with disabilities
• Lack of coordination among health care providers
• Lack of funding, including lack of health-care insurance

It is the ignorance and attitudes of society that raise these barriers; it is not the disability itself that limits a person from accessing information and resources to empower their sexual health. In 2008 the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was the first legally binding international treaty with disability at its core. The convention outlines how to create these inclusive programmes that enhance the sexual and reproductive awareness for persons with disabilities, and why research studies and funding are so critical. It states that sexual and reproductive health progammes must reach and serve persons with disabilities, because historically people with disabilities have been denied information regarding sex and reproduction. Many have been subjected to forced sterilizations, forced abortions, or forced marriages. The disability community is more likely to experience physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and other forms of gender based violence. The United Nations system and its partners seek to strengthen their efforts to support the new Convention as a matter of human rights.

Raising Awareness

1. Disability is everyone’s business
2. Persons with disabilities are not necessarily sick
3. Access means more than ramps
4. Persons with disabilities have sex too
5. Persons with disabilities want the same things in life that everyone wants
6. For persons with disabilities, prejudice can be the biggest barrier
7. Everywhere and always, persons with disabilities are entitled to self-determination, privacy, respect, and dignity
8. It is best and usually easy to mainstream health services that accommodate persons with disabilities
9. Persons with disabilities are crucial constituency in all programmes
10. Programmes best suit persons with disabilities when persons with disabilities help to design them. “Nothing about us without us” is a key principle

Increased Vulnerability

An example of the increased vulnerability that persons with disability face when it comes to sexual exploitation is in regards to HIV. In many countries there is a common belief that if someone with HIV has sex with a virgin, the virus will be transferred from the infected person to the virgin. The practice, known as “virgin rape”, is often inflicted upon persons with disabilities because there in an incorrect assumption that a person with a disability must be sexually inactive. While this practice is seen more in the developing countries, it is the exact same societal premise we use in first world countries as to why persons with disabilities are not educated about sexual health. This assumption of sexual inactivity based on a person’s ability is an illustration of ableism, and how the abled body world projects bias onto the disability community.

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