By Tanisha Clarke, MPH
Senior Program Manager, Disability and Public Health
Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)
"We are denying people with disabilities a fundamental part of being human."
Sexual and reproductive health are important parts of overall health; however, people with disabilities are not always given the resources they need to achieve it. For many, this topic is addressed in schools, at home, in doctors' offices, or in the care of other human service professionals. Are people with disabilities asked about their sexual needs, or does society assume that they cannot or do not have sex?
People with disabilities require information and tools on sexual and reproductive health in order to make healthy choices and prevent illnesses so they, too, can lead full lives. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 percent of adults in the United States have some type of disability, and disabilities are especially common among women and minorities. CDC data also show that in 2015 an alarming 41 percent of high school students reported having had sexual intercourse, many without the use of a condom; half of the nearly 20 million new STDs reported each year were among those between the ages of 15 to 24; and young people between the ages of 13 and 24 accounted for an estimated 22 percent of all new HIV diagnoses.
People with disabilities are not exempt from these implications. There is great need to address the lack of inclusive services and resulting health implications for people with disabilities, especially those who are also members of other underserved populations. If a person with a disability is not treated as a whole person, rather than just focusing on their disability, the lack of information on sexual and reproductive health leaves them vulnerable and at a greater risk for preventable health problems.
People with disabilities should and do have a right to be treated with dignity and to be provided sexual and reproductive health resources in a format or manner that works for the individual. Most barriers that prevent people with disabilities from being included in conversations and health promotion efforts around sexual and reproductive health can be addressed by providing sign language interpreters for people who are deaf, providing alternate formats for written materials, using simple language and ideas that are easy to grasp for those with learning and cognitive disabilities, and providing accommodations to those with physical limitations. The point is, they should not simply be ignored.
The Association of University Centers on Disabilities Sexual Health special interest group (SIG) connects individuals interested in this topic and provides resources about disability and sexuality. The purpose of the Sexual Health SIG is to identify, organize, stimulate, educate, and mobilize individuals and organizations to increase the capacity and commitment within the nation to meet the sexual health needs of all people with disabilities. The resource page referenced on the Sexual Health SIG page is managed by the Wyoming Institute for Disabilities Sexual and Reproductive Health Project. These resources cover a wide range of topics including dating, healthy relationships, and sexual health. Join the conversation, share your knowledge, and make an impact in the lives of people with disabilities.
CDC Disability and Health – Disability Impacts All of Us
CDC Disability and Health – Related Conditions CDC Disability and Health – Healthy Living
CDC Adolescent and School Health - Sexual Risk Behaviors: HIV, STD, & Teen Pregnancy Prevention
Impact Feature Issue on Sexuality and People with Intellectual, Developmental and Other Disabilities
"Take Charge!" A Reproductive Health Guide for Women with Disabilities
For Many With Disabilities, Freedom To Be Intimate Is Rare