Since 1999, Outsiders has run the Sex and Disability Helpline, a national helpline which is free to callers. This service was run very much in isolation by Dr Tuppy Owens, who decided to set up the ‘Sexual Health & Disability Alliance’ initially to bring together disability helpline operators and others around the country, who offer advice on sex, sexuality and relationships and disability.
SHADA thus started as a small group of individuals, eager to improve the sex-positive work we do, provide more informed services, and attract health and social care professionals from other disability agencies. We hope to influence policies so that more disabled people can explore their sexuality and enjoy relationships.
Meetings have been held twice a year in London. We decided that joining this group is not dependent on being able to attend meetings, but the more of us who can sit around a table together, the better. The outcomes of each meeting have been sent to members by email, and put on this website.
We welcome anyone engaged in the positive promotion of sex for disabled people. Slowly, we have gained a wider range of members. Added to the helpline managers came the managers of homes and colleges for disabled people, pioneers in the medical profession, and health and social care professionals, sex workers, support staff, all of whom felt they were struggling on their own to provide sexual advice and support to disabled people, and were delighted to join the SHADA team.
Because SHADA was evolving so quickly, we were hesitant to formalise the group but in 2008 we formulated our aims, vision and mission statement (since revised). We also set our minds to improving the training and support given to staff to enable them to ensure that disabled clients were supported in their personal struggle, if they so wished.
In 2009 we held the conference Disability: Sex, Relationships and Pleasure with the Royal Society of Medicine. For this, we wrote draft guidelines which can now be seen o this website. Despite the conference’s success, we knew we were “speaking to the converted” and decided more needed to be done. In 2011, Outsiders received a small grant to produce the Sexual Respect Tool Kit and a team of writers and health and social care professionals are working together to create a multi-media resource. Many of these people are SHADA members. The Kit aims to help GPs and other health and social care professionals feel more comfortable initiating discussions around sex with their patients and clients. It is now online on www.SexualRespect.com.
In 2011, we carried out a Freedom Of Information Survey to gain their views on disabled people enjoying sex and using sex workers. 121 replied, 53% with a positive attitude to sexual activity but only 4% condoning the use of sex workers (most said that their believed it to be illegal!).
In 2012, the newspapers were suddenly filled with a “scandal” surrounding a residential home for disabled adults allowing sex workers to visit residents. This had been a result of the confidence which SHADA had given to our members that sex workers did an important and competent job. The public were supportive of such a provision, when they read about it in the newspapers, even in Northern Ireland! And when the film, The Sessions, reached Britain, public opinion was even more supportive. SHADA values the wonderful work done by some sex workers to support disabled people to learn about their bodies, please a partner and gain sexual self confidence. Some SHADA members are, infact, sex workers.
SHADA has now evolved to become a group which works actively to encourage health and social care professionals to push forward and break down old barriers to supporting disabled people in their sexual expression.
Tuppy Owens has been invited to speak at several conferences to speak to health and social care professionals with their holistic care which include attention to the sexual needs of their disabled clients. Struggles and successes with this work are ongoing within SHADA.