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My wife and I are very adventurous sexually and are keen to try attending swingers parties…

By Disability, Lifestyle, Mik Scarlet, My story, The Love Lounge One Comment

James, Milton-Keynes

“My wife and I are very adventurous sexually and are keen to try attending swingers parties. However, I have MS and am a wheelchair user. Can I expect the swinging scene to be equipped to deal with and accepting of my disability?”


While I haven’t ventured onto the swinging scene, I have many friends who have. I do know that from my contact with them that disability is not really an issue. To be honest I kept finding myself being told that I would “enjoy” myself on that scene as many of them have a tick list, or a list of things they want to try.

Sex with a disabled person is high on that list apparently, so if you don’t mind that idea then it might be fun. I would check out your local scene and see if you like the people, which I would imagine is pretty important if you intend to sleep with them! Of course some people might be arse holes, but that is life. I should say that please go it into with your eyes open. I know many relationships that have been torn apart by trying swinging.

It may sound fun, but will either of you be able to cope if one partner is more popular than another? Jealousy can kill a successful relationship, and while it is a not fashionable emotion I personally feel it is part of really being in love. Having said that, I also know couples who have a great time and swear it has brought them closer together. So if you really fancy it, go for it. Trust me, as far I as I understand having a disability is not bar to swinging your socks off!

American Horror Story Promo Poster

American Horror Story : ‘Freakshow’ – Art or Ableism?

By Disability, Lifestyle One Comment

The new season of the popular U.S TV show ‘American Horror Story’ hits our British shores on 21st October, over on FX, in time to get us excited for Halloween. For those unfamiliar with the concept, ‘Freakshow’ is the 4th season of the AHS franchise which started in 2011, reusing the same cast over again but always with a different setting and storyline. Previous seasons themes include ‘Asylum,’ ‘Coven’ and a haunted house all designed to be creepy, sexual, funny and very different to anything else out there right now.

However, this upcoming cycles content has ruffled some feathers within the disabled community, and it’s not hard to see why. ‘AHS: Freakshow’ is set in 1950’s Florida centering on a group of people with obvious physical disabilities banded together in one of America’s last ‘freak’ shows. Some actors playing these roles are genuinely disabled, such as the worlds smallest woman Jyoti Amge, and others not, where recurring actress Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins.

The use of the archaic word ‘Freak’ serves as a useful reminder to us of the terms that have come and gone, much like racially prejudiced terms, that are no longer acceptable in the modern PC age. This is a credit to our society, to recognise as a whole that these terms along with ‘crippled’ and ‘handicapped,’ are no longer acceptable; yet it is also unnerving to see published so brazenly again. As Howard Sherman puts it in his ‘Guardian’ article on this topic, ‘[freak] is a slur – and though it might be accurately portrayed on screen or on stage, it’s not yours to reclaim for someone else, even characters in a show.’

Especially when paired with the series promo poster, a ghostly looking misshapen foot next to the title ‘Freakshow’ (see above), gives the impression that we are to fear and gawp at. This is, after all, supposed to be the portrayal of a ‘horror story.’ Yet, what precisely is so ‘horrific’ about the disabled form?

After watching the first episode, it is apparent that the ‘freaks’ are supposed to provoke a feeling of unease in the viewer, yet they are also built up as multi dimensional characters. But this privilege is mostly enjoyed by the non-disabled actors playing disabled roles. Jyoti Amge, a 20 year old woman with achondroplasia, is permitted just a few lines in a bit part that is doubtful to last the whole season. Additionally, she is routinely picked up and carried around by cast members, fueling the infantilization of those with small stature. It does, frankly, reek of objectification.

Regardless, this popular television show has decided to put disability, and how those with disabilities used to be treated so callously not all that long ago, at its forefront. ‘Freakshow’s’ were something that happened in society, and to ignore that fact in popular culture would be the same as claiming it never existed.

Wheelchair logo with heart

Pretenders, Devotees & Wannabes

By Disability, Lifestyle No Comments

Many of us with at least moderate awareness of the disability world are familiar with the concept of ‘devotees’ – a person with a specific sexual fetish related to disability or only interested in having relationships with a disabled person. This is usually relatively harmless when those involved feel safe, respected and are aware of one anothers intentions, much like in any other relationship.

But what happens when an able-bodied persons admiration for the disabled form transcends desire and becomes part of their perceived identity? This is where ‘pretenders’ and ‘wannabes’ come in. Both typically view themselves as being ‘trans-abled,’ where similarly to transgendered people they feel as though they have been born into the wrong body. They then often identify with one specific disability and then proceed to act it out either privately or publicly.

One such ‘pretender,’ only making himself known as Chris, was profiled in the recent American TV series ‘Seven Deadly Sins.’ Chris hides his pretender status from those around him but feels conflicted within himself when he is not in his wheelchair. Of his identity crisis he poignantly revealed that, “what I want my life to be like is what is the detriment of a lot of people’s lives, the worst thing that’s ever happened to them, and I think it would be the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Wannabes take things one step further and go to extraordinary lengths to deliberately become disabled, by perhaps amputating a limb or rendering themselves paraplegic, often with a very precise idea of the disability they identity with. A chilling post from’s ‘Wannabe and Pretender’s Forum’ reads: ‘I have seen a lot of amputee wannabe’s [on the forum] so far but, no paraplegic wannabe’s. I’m a 35 year old para pretender looking for chat. [sic] I’m serious about trying to get the job done. If anyone has any suggestions or ideas […] send a message.’

One blog entitled ‘Wheelchairconfession,’ tellingly unveils the link between devoteeism and pretending. For these people disability is not only their identity, it also excites them sexually. One blogger revealed that: ‘I told my girlfriend about my wheelchair. […] I started by telling her I had a fetish/fantasy about [having sex] while on my wheelchair. I proceeded to tell her that I’d like to try doing everyday things from a wheelchair.’ Another blogger laments the fact that he still keeps his pretender status secret from his partner but chronicles his excitement when she asks him to dress up in a pirate outfit, complete with a fake hook hand, in the bedroom. Infact, many ‘pretenders’ and ‘wannabes’ report having the sexual desire for disabled people first from a young age, which in turn progresses into the desire to BECOME a disabled person.

It is easy to see why people get riled up by ‘pretenders’ and ‘wannabes.’ Many truly disabled people find it hard to see why somebody would choose to have something that makes their life harder, or changed their life completely. They may feel like ‘pretenders’ do not understand the full seriousness of having a real disability and just enjoy the sympathy or attention stemming from it, or even that they are infringing on a culture that is rightly and wholly theirs.

However, the feeling of being ‘trans-abled’ is medically acknowledged as being a legitimate physiological condition known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID). Could this in itself then be acknowledged as a disability? Would there be limits on how these people choose to live their lives if they wanted access to the same amenities specifically reserved for genuinely disabled people? In a world where all minority groups are still fighting for their right to be heard and accepting people of all kinds is becoming increasingly regular dialogue in our society, should we just live and let live? There is, frankly, a Pandora’s box worth of questions and issues.

On one final note, an anonymous ‘pretender’ interviewed by ‘New’ had this to say: ‘Pretenders don’t hurt anyone, as long as they’re not trying to scam government benefits or taking services away from people who actually need them. We have a ‘fetish,’ an ‘interest,’ or even a ‘disorder’ — call it what you will, we’re just living our lives in the only way we really can.’

hands on jail bars

Deaf & Disabled Inmates – Sentenced to Isolation

By Disability, Lifestyle No Comments

Recently, the Deaf community was rocked by the news of the savage murder of Christopher Pennman by Awat Akram. Both men were Deaf and the motive for the crime was supposedly jealousy over a woman they both had had a relationship with.

Akram stabbed Pennman multiple times while he slept, defenceless, in his bed. To add to the horror and hardship, Akram then went on to deny his role in the murder and mislead the police in their investigation. He has now been sentenced to life in prison – a minimum of 28 years.

Akram’s crime was clearly deplorable and he deserves to be punished while the public are protected from him. Yet, disabled inmates in our country are typically consigned to paying a much higher price for their crimes than their able-bodied counterparts.

The HM Inspectorate of Prisons (2009) found that disabilities are largely under-reported in UK prisons, with deafness being no exception. Many Deaf and hard of hearing people use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate, yet a HM Inspectorate of Prisons survey found that just 16 out of 82 disability liaison officers said they had BSL trained staff to help Deaf prisoners with daily activities. Therefore, these inmates will likely find themselves in a position where few (if any) BSL interpreters are available to them during their time in prison, which may be for the rest of their lives.

The detailed 2013 study ‘Not hearing us – An exploration of the experiences of deaf prisoners in English and Welsh prisons,’ suggests that being denied the basic right to communicate, quite rightly, causes feelings of extreme isolation and loneliness. If deaf prisoners are not able to communicate, they are not able to fully assimilate into prison life which in turn reduces their likelihood of reform.

Despite prisons being covered by the Equality Act 2010 many Deaf inmates were still experiencing problems with access to education – a major tool in their rehabilitation. One hearing impaired inmate even claimed that he could not access 90% of prison classes without a support worker.

Enhance the UK believes that by implementing disability awareness training and sign language courses into prisons for prison staff, these issues can be more efficiently and economically dealt with than they currently are.

97% of all offenders say they want to stop offending and the biggest factor (68%) helping them do this is having a job and prospects. When you do not invest in a minority group in prison, much like in regular society, you are already robbing them of any hope of turning their lives around. When offenders have something constructive to focus on and a chance to better themselves, our community as a whole benefits.

The Undressing Disability shoot 2013 in front of Big Ben, London

Undressing ‘Undressing Disability’

By Disability, Lifestyle No Comments

About five years ago I took my 32-year-old friend, Andy, who has cerebral palsy on a trip to Amsterdam to visit a sex worker. Although he is funny, open minded and a football coach with a university degree, he was yet to have a sexual experience.

After the trip, he told me that he didn’t think it had gone well because he didn’t orgasm immediately and it surprised me that he would think that way.

It then made me realise that, along with many other physically disabled people, Andy is knowledgeable and sociable in many areas but when it came to sex he didn’t know the basics. This was not only because he had never experienced it, but also that no one had ever educated him. When I returned from Amsterdam I began researching what sex education was available for disabled people like Andy, but found very little. That really scared me.

I founded Enhance the UK in 2009 with the aim of changing society’s perception of disability as well as empowering and supporting physically disabled and sensory impaired people to live full, active lives. In 2012, we ran a campaign called Undressing Disability and produced calendars featuring all disabled models donning nothing but their underwear, poised in front of iconic London backdrops. We wanted to celebrate the disabled form while raising awareness of our inclusive Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) program in collaboration with leading youth sexual health and education providers, Brook, which is the backbone to our entire evolving campaign.

Currently, there is no UK government policy recognising that physically disabled young people require specialised SRE. In a 2013 survey we conducted, 69% of people thought their disability should have been taken into consideration in SRE and 100% observed that it was never even addressed. Physical disabilities are often placed under the same disability ‘umbrella’ as people with learning disabilities when in reality the two deserve and require different attention.

Physically disabled people who rely on full time carers to wash, dress and feed them run the risk of becoming desexualised despite them having regular, healthy, adult urges. Being looked after in this way makes those around them forever view them in a childlike way.

Through my own disability of degenerative hearing loss, I am acutely aware of the issues the deaf community face in terms of SRE. A recent survey by the charity Deafax found that 67 per cent of deaf people received inaccessible sex education and 45 per cent of those people said it was because they could not understand teachers. One deaf girl told Deafax that she didn’t know anything about sex, contraception or relationships when she left school. She said: “There was never anyone to ask who could explain properly to me in sign language. I didn’t know how many sexual partners were ‘normal’.”

As part of Undressing Disability we’ve launched‘The Love Lounge,’ a safe space on our website where users can ask our panel any questions related to sex, relationships and disability. No topic is off limits and we would encourage queries, not only from our disabled users, but their partners and parents too. We want to encourage discussion on these seemingly ‘taboo’ topics and create a caring sense of community.

We are pleased to introduce media personality and prominent disabled activist, Mik Scarlet and presenter and writer Emily Yates as our ‘Love Lounge’ experts. Mik and Emily are also two of our very talented disability awareness trainers so are used to addressing all kinds of issues.

The truth is that disabled people have sex and disabled people like sex. But they don’t have access to the same advice and support as their peers. We need to stop the stigma and address the ‘awkward’ questions nobody else will so that disabled people can enjoy safe, healthy and fulfilling sex lives, just like everyone else.











Campaigning for human rights! by Caroline Dempsey

By Disability, Lifestyle One Comment

It’s easy for me to say that I can focus on what I have, not what I don’t have, or on what I can do, not on what I can’t do. But for a disabled person, it’s much more difficult to find the positives. Some I speak to admit that on the face of it, they give the impression of confidence, but in private, the story is very different. They suffer with poor body image, lack of self-esteem and self-worth, their attempts to have a satisfying sex life presents them with problems not only in regard to their physical ability, but also their physiological capabilities. As much as I encourage and want to help with enabling my clients to enjoy sex (either with me or with another), I cannot imagine how much anxiety and frustration they must endure.

I recently attended a SHADA conference (The Sexual Health and Disability Alliance). There must have been over 40 professionals there, all with the same ambition, and that’s to enable those with disabilities to express themselves sexually whenever they need to. That’s whether they’re in care or at home, and however bad their condition is. It was fantastic to be amongst so many who felt so passionate and who are willing to do all they can for the cause. Dr Tuppy Owens, the founder, is a shining example of someone who won’t give up. She’s been a serial campaigner for years and won’t rest when it comes to gaining support for those who can’t get it themselves.

Of course, there are many laws around enabling the disabled to have sex, or to call on sex workers, but we learned at the conference that the laws are simply breaching basic human rights. There are many myths surrounding them and in fact, many lawyers don’t even seem to know them clearly. If it’s consensual, adult and done in private, that’s a human right. A ‘right to fun’ is a human right, and so on. It was said that ‘criminal law’ has no place in the bedroom. I stress, if the act is consensual and pleasurable for all, then no, it does have no place in the bedroom (or whatever room you choose).

By law, people working within the disability sector must support human rights – by law! They must support the sexual expression of their client. It is a breach of Duty of Care not to enable sexual expression. It’s more of a breach than not supporting safeguarding! The trouble is that folk are concerned that they’re not supporting protective rights enough, and are therefore raising the bar further in order to supplement their efforts. Trouble is, this is breaching human rights even further. Although a well-meant act, it’s having the opposite effect.

A prime example of this was highlighted by another speaker. She is a highly qualified professional and a highly respected member amongst her peers. But officially speaking, because she’s 60% deaf, the Sexual Offences Act recognises that she is unable to consent to sex, and it is therefore seen as rape. Go figure. It’s a human rights violation!

One of the speakers was a lad in a wheelchair who very honestly explained that when he wanted to lose his virginity, he had to think for a long time about how he would go about it. He was living with his mum and couldn’t discuss it with her, of course. However, he eventually went ahead and he achieved exactly what he wanted, but it wasn’t easy for him. I’ve heard this from so many people of all ages. Sometimes the embarrassment factor is greater, the older the person gets. Another girl spoke of her experience when, a few years ago, she got some help in enabling her to have sex with a partner. It didn’t go according to plan and the person helping, instead of speaking to her, spoke to her social worker directly. This destroyed any trust she held around that person and made her very cautious for the future.

Needless to say, there’s a lot going on in the background to raise awareness and to support this sector in any way possible to make sure they get the help that’s so desperately needed. But in light of the fact that gays have pretty much now become mainstream, who knows, perhaps disabled people will be given resources galore to help them express themselves fully sexually. I hope this can happen quickly, I really do.

For more from Caroline Dempsey visit her website.

Submerged Flood Sign

If Floods are Here to Stay, How Will We Reduce the Risks to Disabled People? By Emily Buchanan

By Business, Disability, Lifestyle No Comments

Whilst floods impact everyone, they are especially challenging for the elderly and people with disabilities. “Depending on the severity of the mobility issue,” writes Gerry Bucke, manager of Chartwell Mobility Insurance Services, “some people may require assistance to leave their homes. Negotiating floodwater in a wheelchair or mobility scooter is virtually impossible and if people become trapped, they can be exposed to water-borne diseases, raw sewage and the dangers of waiting for rescue.”

UK January Rainfall GraphUnfortunately, flooding like we’ve seen in the past few months is going to occur more frequently. A 2013 UN report on climate change confirms that human behaviour has caused global temperatures to increase. This has caused arctic sea ice to melt, sea levels to rise and record levels of precipitation.

So if extreme weather is here to stay, what is being done to reduce the risk to the nation’s elderly and disabled people?

In truth, shamefully little. Even after the floods of 2007, which were deemed the biggest peacetime civil emergency since the Second World War, only a fraction of money for flood risk reduction now goes to helping local communities build their own resilience and action plan.

What can we learn for other countries?

Other countries, such as Bangladesh and the Philippines, have shown just how effective risk reduction plans can be. According to CAFOD’s disaster risk reduction adviser Dr Kate Crowley, Bangladeshi communities hold regular town meetings to plan evacuation strategies, ensuring that people with disabilities and the elderly are always taken care of.

Similarly, the tiny Philippines island of Tulang Diyot evacuated every one of its 1,000 residents before Typhoon Yolanda – a vicious storm which went on to flatten every building on the island. It was all down to risk reduction and prioritising the rescue of vulnerable residents.

However, there are also many countries struggling with the disability issue of disaster management. Statistics from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011 show that the mortality rate among people with disabilities was double that of the rest of the affected population. Sae Kani, who has worked across Southeast Asia with disabled people, said, “They are always the last ones to be counted. They don’t come to collect the emergency relief items… they are always invisible.”

This issue was embodied at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction by 11-year-old Danh from Vietnam. Danh has a physical disability and told the conference how frightened he was when his Quang Nam village flooded. “From that experience, whenever I see floods and rain, I feel very scared. I beg you: please develop a flood preparedness plan and evacuate kids with disabilities to a safe place, and please teach us and our family members about how to be ready for floods.”

How should we adapt?

As extreme weather becomes more of an issue, the UK needs to “encourage locally-managed disaster risk reduction, and introduce more community flood forums which would help vulnerable people living on flood plains to adapt and plan ahead,” says the CAFOD.

Historically, the changeability of British weather has made it very difficult to prepare for extremes. Our weather patterns fluctuate according to the position of the jet stream, meaning we experience exceptionally cold, warm or windy weather for short periods of time. However, research suggests that the recent warming of the Arctic has caused the jet stream to change, sending “conveyor belts” of weather to the UK that stay for longer periods of time, which explains the increased levels of rain.

Whilst the floods of 2013/14 do not equate to the typhoons of the Philippines or the earthquakes of Japan, our climate is changing and vulnerable people are at risk. Therefore, disaster risk reduction needs to be disability inclusive, and communities need to have access to resources that allow them to plan evacuation strategies, ensuring that people with disabilities and the elderly are always taken care of.

I really want to date but I don’t know when to mention the ‘D’ word…

By Disability, Lifestyle, The Love Lounge One Comment

Actions speak louder than words. You don’t even need to mention the D word to actually go on a date!
Step One: Select something exciting that you’d like to do with your beau.

Why? Studies show that when we spend time with people in adrenaline heightened situations we find them more attractive, and they will find us more attractive too. This will give you the chance to go on an “invisible date.” You know it’s a date but they don’t! For them, you just had a fun time out together. For you, it is the first step in getting to know them better and deciding if you want to take this relationship further and into the bedroom.

From there you can just keep getting to know them with more “invisible dates.” When you are clear you want to take things further, go in for a snog. After the first kiss it is clearly time to start using the D word and not long after that you can graduate to calling them your boyfriend/girlfriend!