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More than sex

As I've learned from my good friend Shauna Farabaugh, CSSE, consent is about much more than sex. She got my wheels turning at the 2020 Cal-TASH conference, days before COVID-19 changed everything. Shauna led a packed room of conference-goers in practicing giving consent, revoking consent, and honoring others' consent and non-consent. The participants were self-advocates, family members, service providers, educators, researchers, and others in the disability world. The room was loud, important questions were asked, and Shauna led us in challenging our conceptions.

There's a push these days to teach children about consent by having others ask before giving hugs or other kinds of affection (I wish this happened with I was young - I love hugging certain people, not all people and not all the time). What I don't see, however, is that same skill being taught to children with disabilities.

  • We aren't teaching people with limited speech how to communicate, "NO," "STOP," "WAIT," "I NEED TO THINK ABOUT IT," or other options using alternative means

    • Signing, gesturing, vocalizing, making facial expressions, and using AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) techniques all count

  • We aren't teaching people with sensory differences to assert themselves in maintaining personal space and addressing other needs

  • We aren't teaching people with physical support needs how to have agency over their mobility devices or other tools

A 2019 CBC article, "A wheelchair user's guide to consent" discusses this last point, in which author Gabrielle Peters says, "Our assistive devices are a part of our body. We aren't furniture that can be moved around." If you are in a position of power (educator, family member, support provider, etc.) please ask permission before touching someone's mobility device.

Can this be challenging? Absolutely. There are many situations that force us to think harder and to try harder. Here are a few thoughts:

Question: What if there's in an emergency?

Thought: If it's a true emergency, react as you would with anyone else - help them get away from danger as quickly and as safely as possibly (yes, this may include touching without consent)

Question: What if the person has to go and there really isn't a choice?

Thought: Give the person control over when to leave, which way to go, etc.

Question: What about people who can't give consent?

Thought: All people can give (and revoke) consent. If communication isn't clear, it's up to that person's circle of support to find communication methods that work and then honor them

a young person in a sporty-looking wheelchair on a sports court, smiling at the camera
photo by Danny Nee on Unsplash

"Our assistive devices are a part of our body. We aren't furniture that can be moved around." - Gabrielle Peters, 2019

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