In today’s world, there are several ways to seek love, intimacy and relationships. Being set up by a friend, going to a party, speed dating, or trying your luck online are all methods people use when attempting to find that special someone.
While mastering the language of love can be a challenge for anyone, it can be especially tough for people with disabilities. Lack of knowledge about healthy relationships, societal stigmas, and attitudinal barriers all play a role in this group’s ability to fulfill a natural need.
SAIPA is proud to partner with ARCHES (formerly Lethbridge HIV Connection) to open a dialogue around people with disabilities and relationships through an exciting initiative called “Right To Love”.
Beginning in February, “Right To Love” Lethbridge is a free group where people with disabilities of all kinds can come together to discuss their feelings on love, relationships, sex and sexuality. The group will meet at SAIPA one Monday per month.
Although new to the city, the Right To Love movement began in Calgary in 2010 through the work of Disability Action Hall: a group of self-advocates with disabilities, the SCOPE Society and the Calgary Sexual Health Centre. Along with monthly meetings, the group provides education and awareness about people with disabilities and their right to meaningful relationships.
For now, the focus of the chapter in Lethbridge will be simply to meet and open conversation around sex and disability.
How will we do that?
Anna Olson, SAIPA’s Advocacy Co-ordinator, will share co-facilitation of the group with Tannia Los, Client Services and Counselling Co-ordinator for ARCHES. Tannia has a background in psychology, providing knowledge around group facilitation, safe sex, and STI prevention. Anna will contribute knowledge regarding people with disabilities and the challenges they face.
People with disabilities are often unable to explore healthy sexual relationships due to barriers such as lack of knowledge, lack of support from parents, guardians or other authority figures, and a lack of privacy. Societal attitudes can also paint people with disabilities as asexual. The reality is: we all have a desire for intimacy and relationships.
Another reality: people with disabilities are often more vulnerable than the general population. According to 2007 statistics from the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre, women with disabilities are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women without disabilities. Of adults with developmental disabilities, 83 per cent of women and 32 per cent of men with will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime.
Having an understanding of healthy relationships, sex and sexuality keeps adults with disabilities safe, giving them the power to advocate for themselves and avoid dangerous situations.
For this reason, we are excited to bring “Right To Love” to the city. This initiative will be another vital part of the education SAIPA provides around relationships. Since February 2015, SAIPA has been proud to offer Sexuality for Adults with Developmental Disabilities, an extensive multi-week course that delves into forming healthy friendships, dating, relationships and sexuality.
However, unlike the structured workshop, “Right To Love” will have a loose, baseline curriculum that is flexible to allow participants to discuss topics they wish. Examples could include safe relationships, consent, how to say no, safe masturbation or how to put on a condom. The group will be ongoing, and those who register can leave the group at any time.
Facilitators hope to create a safe space where people can “ask the hard questions.”
There is a maximum of 15 people per group; multiple groups may be formed if interest proves high.
To register, contact Anna at 403-320-1515 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out more about Right To Love Calgary, click here.