‘Moving Forward’: Intellectual Disability & Sexuality Conference

by Brian Donohoe, National Federation of Voluntary Bodies

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3 February 2011
On Thursday, 3 February 2011, Brian Donohoe and Edel Tierney attended the Intellectual Disability and Sexuality Conference in the Marino Institute in Dublin. The day began with a welcome from Zoe Hughes, Social worker and PhD student at the NIID (National Institute for intellectual Disability). This was followed by an introduction of the opening session by Elzaan Goosen, Chairperson of the Connect People Network (CPN) and senior psychologist at Stewarts Care Limited.`

The first presentation was read by Fergus Finlay for Frieda Finlay (who could not attend due to illness). This presentation was about how she struggled as a mother to accept that her daughter, who has an intellectual disability, would grow up and want to have an intimate relationship and how at one point she had felt that her daughter was still a child even though she was 20 years old. However, after her daughter had two different relationships each lasting four years, Frieda, as a mother, has come to accept that this is the way it should be. Her presentation ended with her saying that the issue of relationships between people with disabilities needs to be talked about openly.

The next presentation was by Frieda Bent of KARE. She talked about giving women with intellectual disability information about breast cancer and how to prevent it. This was done by using information that was easy-to-read & understand. It also involved using pictures which helped people to understand the information better.

The next presentation was about a National Study of Relationships and supports which was done by the Inclusive Research Network. This presentation was co-presented by six people Edurne Garcia from NIID Trinity College with Marie Wolfe, Martin Dooher, Marie Deely, Ger Minogue & Brian Donohoe, all from the Inclusive Research Network. All six talked about the research that was done and how it was done, the findings from the research, and how they had benefited from the experience. They also answered a number of questions after the presentation.

After a short break the next presentation was led by Jacqui Ashby, Coordinator of BATIAS Stars in the Sky (a dating & friendship service for people with intellectual disabilities in the UK). She spoke about how the service had been set up to help people to make friends, as well as being a dating service. The service gives people the opportunity to meet new people, choose from a variety of events, experience new leisure activities, and develop and sustain friendships and relationships. Members of the BATIAS group also talked about the various activities and events they run, such as a summer ball and day trips to various places. All this is organised by a committee which includes people with intellectual disabilities. They also showed a DVD of one of the events that included interviews with some of the people who attended.

The next presentation was by Anne Lawlor, Chairperson of 22Q11 Ireland with her daughter Áine Lawlor. This presentation was about how a mother and daughter deal with the issue of relationships by talking about it together. Anne Lawlor told how she had spoken with her daughter about the risks of passing on her medical condition which is an inherited condition to any children she might have. She also spoke about her daughter being in a relationship that didn’t end well and how that had been a difficult experience. Áine also spoke about this and about her friend who became pregnant and had a baby. Anne Lawlor spoke about how her daughter’s friend did not know she was pregnant until three weeks before the birth and that this had a bad effect on her and her family. Anne Lawlor felt that as a parent she had to take some action to prevent her own daughter having a similar experience, so they spoke about it. She also played a piece from a Channel 4 programme about barriers to people with disabilities having relationships. She said she was very impressed by how the presenter of the programme handled the issue. Anne Lawlor finished by saying that this issue needs to be brought out into the open so that people could have fuller lives.

The first presentation after lunch was by the CPN. It was co-presented by three people—Brendan O’Reilly who lives independently with his long-term partner, Ryan Johns who is also in a relationship, and Claire Adams who is involved with Special Olympics. All three are very active with CPN. They spoke about all the conferences and seminars at which they have made presentations over the last three years. They also talked about the events they organised as part of the CPN.

The next presentation was by Siobhain O’Doherty, who is a researcher at Trinity College Dublin. This presentation was on the attitude of staff in disability services to relationships between people with disabilities. She found that most staff were not against the idea, but that they were looking for guidelines as to what they should and shouldn’t do. Some staff didn’t take the issue seriously and thought it was just a phase that people would grow out of. Some staff felt guilty about all the things they could do in their life that the service users didn’t get an opportunity to do.

The last presentation was by Zoe Hughes, looking at gay and lesbian people with disabilities and how they face double discrimination, because of having a disability and being homosexual. She talked about the attitudes towards homosexuality in society and the perceptions that exist about people (gay men being like women etc.). She also played a DVD about a gay man with a disability who had an older brother who didn’t believe he was gay because he didn’t think he understood what being gay was. The DVD showed how his brother brought him to a prostitute to try and prove he was straight. This DVD showed just how difficult it can be to be homosexual and have an intellectual disability.

Summary and closing remarks were given by Zoe Hughes and Elzaan Goosen who included an overview of the main issues that had been raised and issues for the future.

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