Earlier this year, Northcott Innovation (NI) held two Velvet Expressions Sessions, where we heard from individuals with a disability who identify as LGBTQI or were exploring their sexuality. These events aimed to open up the discussion about sexuality and disability, and remove the social taboo which constantly prohibits these individuals the right to express themselves.
Here at NI, rather than assuming we understand the needs of people with disability and creating a solution based on our assumptions, we always use a human centred design approach. This enables the stories and lived experiences of people with disability to drive the innovation and creation process.
By hearing people’s stories, thoughts and opinions on how sexuality and adult themed services, products, events and activities can be more inclusive for people with a disability, we were able to form a better understanding of the barriers (physical, environmental or social) that prevent individuals from participating in sexuality activities of their choosing, and together identify possible ways to overcome them. Here is a summary of what we heard at both events.
Sex & relationships was a recurring theme at both events. One of the biggest barriers people reflected upon was the cost of being able to explore sexuality through sex workers, aids and supports or sex toy variation. People expressed that sex toys seem difficult to actually identify what would be appropriate for their individual needs.
“The solution is to take risks, but we are not allowed to [when it comes to sex and relationships]”.
At this session, individuals highlighted the desire to have a safe way to explore their sexuality and sexual life, as well as the barriers because of family. A lot of people’s family’s did not allow them to go to a brothel or see a sex worker, a lot of the time due to faith. Additionally, a few people felt as though they could not talk to their family about being part of the LGBTQI community.
People at velvet expressions reflected upon how they want to meet people with or without a disability, have a long term relationship, get married and have kids; “I don’t want a boring life”. However they feel as though they are not able to- “How and when do I tell someone about my disability, or why should I?”
“Is this emotional journey/heartbreak worth it?”
Individual’s expressed how they need a support worker who is aligned with a similar lifestyle as themselves; same age, gender or has the same interests to be able to comfortably discuss these topics “I need a wing man to help me begin a conversation”. People who attended all expressed how they need a place that is accepting, honest and open to discussing all topics surrounding sexuality: “there is no where to have open and honest conversations about the positives or negative without one side trying to convince the other side which is correct”.
“I don’t talk much, and only said a few things, but you really listened to every word and I feel heard. Thank you.”
There is a huge barrier of accessible knowledge. Individuals at velvet expressions had a lot of questions about two main areas.
“There is no social script to explain disability [needs and supports] to intimate or sexual partners”
“How can I navigate someone else when I don’t know myself well?”
People with disability exploring sexuality feel an overwhelming amount of vulnerability and low self esteem/confidence, which, alongside no access to information and resources, creates a huge barrier to overcome. For some, this barrier completely restricts any potential to the right to sexuality. “I have no idea why someone would bother with me.”
“I don’t know if anyone will understand me and my journey”
We would like to thank everyone that attended Velvet Expressions, as it has given us an invaluable insight and better understanding of the barriers that people with disability face with participating in sexuality activities of their choosing. This has enabled the team at NI to work on identifying possible ways to overcome these barriers and support people with disability to live as equals in their community.
If you would like to support the NI team with future projects on sexuality and disability, contact firstname.lastname@example.org