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Intimate side of life eludes the disabled due to misinformation-Times Of India- By Mithila Phadke

Date on which testimonial was published:
9 Feb 2014

When NGO Voice Vision conducted a workshop on sexuality for the visually
impaired in 2012, a team of medical professionals led sessions on the human
body, intimacy and abuse. Participants exchanged stories, attended freewheeling
discussions on sexual health and relationships, and with the aid of anatomically
correct models understood what the opposite genders body looked like. In some
cases, their own.

Many didn’t know their own body, or the correct terms for the genitals, recalls
Sushmeetha Bubna, founder-director of Voice Vision.It wasn’t surprising. The lack
of information among the differently abled regarding sexuality is an offshoot
of a long-held assumption that they are asexual. Sex is considered to be out of
the realm of disabled, due to the perception that they either cannot or do
not, want it.

In India, where the infrastructure, education and employment opportunities for
the disabled still have much catching up to do, intimacy is considered too
frivolous an issue to focus on, said Richa Kaul Padte, who co-authored
www.sexualityanddisability.org.

A first-of-its-kind resource, the portal addresses a wide spectrum of subjects
from fears of proving inadequate as a partner and dealing with abuse, to having
sexual relations despite a disability.Visitors pitch in with stories and
questions, such as 29-yearold, hearing-impaired Namita who wrote about moving on
after a break-up, and a mother who wondered how best to respond to her mentally
challenged teenagers curiosity about sex. Another account describes the struggle
to be perceived desirable, while being on a wheelchair.

The narratives debunk the idea that the differently abled don’t consider
romance, with all its trappings, a vital part of their lives. Disability rights
activist Nidhi Goyal, who recently wrote on the subject for a news website, says
that along with finding a life partner, it is also the lighter aspects of
dating, flirting, and nursing a secret crush that are very much underestimated. People feel that we have all these other issues like education
and empowerment to take care of first so how can we even think about romance
she says. It is like telling a college kid, Focus only on your studies.How can
you think of having a girlfriend

Also taken for granted is the idea that a disabled person must be grateful for
any attention at all. When a normal person is looking for a life partner, they take into account their likes and dislikes, says dietician consultant Hetal Mehta. Why should it be any different for a disabled person Mehta lost her vision in her early 20s and is married to HR manager, Rajesh Mehta, also visually impaired.The two met through a common acquaintance, Sushmeetha Bubna. The friendship progressed to love, and they married in 2010, despite family concerns Both families weren’t sure if their child should get married to someone with a disability, says Rajesh. Today, three years later, the couple has proved them wrong,and won them over.

The situation gets compounded, says Bubna, by discrimination among the disabled
themselves. Men who are blind say they only want someone with low vision, or a sighted person, she explains. They sometimes don’t realise that they look for a caretaker rather than a life partner. Activist Malini Chib agrees. Disabled men get more partners.Women are seen as caregivers and people think that disabled women cannot do that.

With an already-existent tendency here to suppress women’s sexuality, those with disabilities find themselves disregarded further. How can you do that says Kaul Padte. People don’t realise that if you deny someone their sexuality, you are denying them an important part of being a human being.

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