The attitude towards the sexuality of the disabled was the central theme at a recent panel discussion held at Stellenbosch University.
“People with physical disabilities can and do have fulfilling sex lives, date, and have children, ”asserted a documentary screened at the opening of the event.
Bongani Mapumulo who was featured in the documentary and also present at the event spoke about why sexuality is an important topic of discussion in the context of disability. He asserted that it is biologically a part of who people are.
“Reflecting on my own life at school and even now at the level of university has required me having to explain my sexuality to someone else.” He said that if people don’t see you as similar to themselves, then sexuality and being perceived as a sexual being starts being difficult.
Mark Chimes and Lilley Berrington, who are dating, discussed their experience of dating. Lilley specifically mentioned the media and the way in which the media portrays disability, giving an episode of The Big Bang Theory as an example.
Howard Wolowitz is at a bar where he has brought Leonard to meet and pick-up women. Wolowitz says: “First we let the lawyers and the jocks thin the herd, then we go after the weak, the old, and the lame.” Leonard responds by asking if that is all there is to Howard’s system. To this Howard responds with: “Yeah and if you spot a girl with a seeing-eye dog, she’s mine.” The inherent implication being that a girl with a seeing-eye dog would be so desperate that she would take anyone or, to build on Howard’s analogy, she would be near the bottom end of the “weak, old and the lame”.
However, she also gave the example of what she saw as a positive attitude towards disability. She said that in Game of Thrones being born a bastard is arguably a disability, quoting Tyrion Lannister to the bastard Jon Snow: “Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armour and it can never be used to hurt you.” It is for this reason that Lilley says she positively identifies as a disabled woman.
She also added that the majority of problems she has experienced are due to how people react to her and the attitudes of society towards disabled people. Her boyfriend Mark agreed saying: “They will often speak like she is a child.”
Tanya Brückner, a student completing her Honours in Psychology at Stellenbosch University, spoke about her research which focuses on “the impact of accessibility to the built environment on disabled people”.
She made an appeal to those present to participate in her focus group discussions on general experiences at the university and how students navigate everything as a student. She explained how she would ask students to take photographs of things that help or hinder in navigating the environment. Most importantly she said that she feels it is important to her that there be research which contributes to awareness around campus.
For example, putting up photographs around campus with written descriptions in braille as a product of her research. Brückner believes that this research, by addressing general attitudes towards disability, could be the first step towards addressing attitudes toward disability and sexuality. – Aydn Parrott