Tag Archives: disability

“he was laughing, so so can we”

I got back from our family holiday on Friday and immediately dived back into the Paralympics. I loved watching the Paralympics. I loved almost everything about it. Before it started, I was a little leery of the “superhumans” title Channel Four were using, although I did like the advert campaign . I enjoyed the sports themselves – and while I was overseas, I did enjoy hearing that Gideon had been booed [Guardian link].

Stickman cartoon of three disabled paralympic medalists on a poduim - one in a wheelchair, one without a visible disability, and one dwarf - being cheered by a crowd. The quote reads "Once you've put someone on a pedestal you can't look down on them" , and was said by Adam Hills during an episode of the Last Leg.

“Once you’ve put someone on a pedestal you can’t look down on them” – Hannah Ensor’s cartoon illustrating an Adam Hills quote – via twitter

But I have to admit, what I’ve really been enjoying is The Last Leg [Channel 4 link]. I’ve been a fan of Adam Hill for a while – there’s a copy of his show Characterful/Joymonger on youtube (unfortuntely not subtitled) – and I find his approach to disability refreshing. If you haven’t seen it, The Last Leg was a fairly standard comedy-chat-show formatted short piece, that focused on the day’s events at the Paralympics, with guest athletes, and manages at once to be utterly irreverent and wholly celebratory of disability – it laughs at non-disabled people’s assumptions and occasionaly squeamishness, while also laughing at itself, at the experiences of being disabled. They talk about disability – the clip of Jody Cundy and Adam Hill talking about prosthetic legs is refreshingly honest and matter-of-fact – and demonstrate that, just like every other aspect of life, there will always be jokes to be made and things to laugh at. In many ways, The Last Leg reminds me of Disability Bitch [twitter link], albeit without some of the snark (and I do love her snark). The introduction of the #isitok hashtag [twitter link] to ask those questions you think of but aren’t sure if they’re appropriate was, frankly, a genius idea – because unless you are yourself disabled, or know a disabled person well enough to ask about their disability, sometimes you really can’t understand what it means to be disabled, or how to approach something. It’s a fact of life that being disabled makes some other people uncomfortable – and sometimes we do laugh at their discomfort, because otherwise rage is the only option. I admit, some people – as Allen Johnson [wordpress link] has said – have been asking stupid, offensive questions on the hashtag. Because some people are dickheads. But what I’ve also seen is the number of people appreciating having the space to ask these questions, and others appreciating the humour and joy in the show.


This does tie into my writing, honest. One of the things I found in all three interviews was humour – we laughed at the silliness of the things people say, or do, or the things we find outself doing and saying; we didn’t always laugh at disability – because disability isn’t a bundle of laughs all the time, and sometimes the humour was a little bleak. But there was laughter.


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Long time no post

It’s been a while. That’s mostly my fault – I should be keeping you updated more. I’ve fallen behind with posting for many many reasons – at first, it was because I was teaching at a summer school (doing research I love doesn’t always pay well, and I find it hard to work during term-time, as excessive  business makes my fibro flare more). This meant, in part, that I was only able to focus on the dissertation for part of the day – and meant I was juggling a number of trains of thought at once – while I love teaching, it does tend to take over my brain. It takes me a couple of weeks to get out of teacher mode too – I find myself using the “irritated teacher” voice on my housemates and explaining things a lot more than I need to.

The second reason I’ve fallen behind actually relates to my research. I interviewed three very lovely people (they know who they are, and how much I’m grateful to them, which is a lot) and it took me rather longer to transcribe the interviews than I thought it would – partly because I massively under-estimated how much we’d all talk! Which is why I’ve decided to stick with just three participants – that and their disparate personalities and the experiences they’ve shared with me has made for quite a diverse little group; not as diverse as I’d like, perhaps, but then again, that was in part the luck of the drawer and my own shortcomings. I’ll have to write more about that.

All the same, thank you to the three participants, and to all the people who got in touch to ask if they could take part. You’re all awesome people.

Since then, I’ve been in a bit of a tizzy over actually writing this all up – I’m handing my dissertation in at the end of September, and it feels very much like I’ve got more to do than I could ever manage – which has led to a few stress-triggered flares and some moments of mild hysteria directed at the dogs or my partner. But it progresses. I’m lucky – I’m writing this from the living room of a villa in Portugal my father-in-law has hired for the week, to celebrate his retirement, and when I”ve written a bit more of my methodology and this post, I’ll be sticking myself in the pool and letting my joints relax a bit. While slathered in suncream.

I’m not going to share too much with you all about what I’ve found – until I’ve handed it in, of course. But so far, I’ve got some key themes that have come out across all three interviews, to various extents:

  • sex and pleasure (and relationships)
  • sexual and disabled identties, and how they interact
  • kink, fetish and porn
  • access and social issues, some of which directly impact sexuality and sexual pleasure
  • living with impairments – what I call the embodied experiences of impairment – and how that impacts sex and relationships and everyday life
  • medicine and care – everything from medications influencing sexual function to how partners become carers

I’m finding the medicine bit a little difficult, in part because rejecting the medical model is so much a part of my political stance, but it doesn’t fit so neatly within the other sections. I think, however, if I’m going to critique the social model for not including the body, then I need to also acknowledge that medicine and care does play a part in disabled people’s lives, to varying levels – and not necessarily negatively all the time; sometimes medicine is a good thing and sometimes we do need someone to help us get into the bath.

Right. Dissertation writing. Off I go. There is some cheese in the fridge calling to me and I want to write a couple of thousand words today before I go tread the fine line between irritating my overly sensitive skin with chlorine, and getting some of the pain to go away for a bit.

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Participants Needed

I’m looking for 4 or 5 disabled people who identify as gay, lesbian, bi, queer or trans to participate in individual interviews about their experience of sexual and/or erotic pleasure, particularly in relation to how their identity as, and lived experience of being, a disabled person affects their experiences. The interviews will be the research for my MSc dissertation in Gender and Sexuality.

If you think this is something you’d like to do, please read on – please pass this on to your friends and acquaintances as well.

If you would like to participate – or would like to ask me any questions, please email me at eshepp01 [at ] mail.bbk.ac.uk or leave a comment in the box below with a way to contact you (comments are not automatically published, and I will not reveal your personal information).

About You:

  • You must be 18 or over at the time of interview.
  • You must identify as disabled, with part/all of your impairment(s) affecting your mobility and/or range of movement or motor control; you can have multiple conditions (I include chronic illnesses and pain within disability).
  • You must be sexually active – either currently or in the past. It’s up to you how you define sexually active, but if your disability/impairment is acquired, you must have been sexually active since that point. I include solo sexual activity – i.e. masturbation – as sexually active, but if you don’t, that’s ok too.
  • You must identify as Queer, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Trans.
  • You’re happy to talk about having sex, sexual and erotic pleasure, and your disability.
  • You live in the UK.

The Interviews:

Face to face interviews will be conducted in a location of the your choosing, if both you and my own access requirements can be met (including the services of a BSL interpreter if necessary; I do not speak BSL to anywhere near an appropriate level). Unfortunately, I’m not able to travel far outside of London, but I will make every attempt to do so if possible. . Otherwise, interviews will be conducted via Skype, or through e-mail, depending on your preference.

The interviews will be recorded, and you will have the opportunity to review and revise the transcripts. I think the interviews will take an hour or thereabouts if done by Skype or in person, and email interviews would involve maybe five or six emails being exchanged. I am also happy to do the interview through instant messenger if you’d prefer.

I am happy for you to have your assistant present if you wish, or a translator if you prefer to speak BSL or a language other than English. While I’m not able to pay you to participate, I am happy to cover the costs of a translator.

The Questions:

The basic questions will be the same for all participants, however, the direction of our conversation will be guided by your answers and what you want to talk about; I might have other questions, depending on what you say. You do not have to answer any question you are uncomfortable with, and I will stop or pause the interview should you wish.

The interview data and transcripts will be made anonymous in the final dissertation, and any other publication resulting from this work.

The following questions will be the initial “starter” questions, although some may not be relevant to you.

  • Does your disability affect your current sexual/intimate relationship(s) or activities? How?
  • Does your disability affect forming new sexual relationships? How?
  • Do you think your impairment has changed how you approach or go about sexual activity? If you have always been disabled, or were disabled from childhood, do you think your disability affects your sexual activity?
  • Does your disability play a role in your sexuality or how you see yourself as a sexual person?
  • Has their impairment changed how you view and/or express your sexuality?

The following biographical information will be collected as well:

  • Age, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Ethnicity
  • Impairment/disability
  • Age of impairment occurring/developing
  • Do they have/need a carer or personal assistant, if yes, is that person(s) a relative/friend, or an employee?

Getting In Touch:

If you would like to participate – or would like to ask me any questions, please email me at eshepp01 [at ] mail.bbk.ac.uk or leave a comment in the box below with a way to contact you (comments are not automatically published, and I will not reveal your personal information). I can also be reached on twitter, if that’s your thing.

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The root of all this

“And it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between someone’s mismanaging her/his own energy and other people’s failure to accommodate her/his impaired energy. Even those of us who have lived a long time with chronic fatigue cannot always tell whether we are not trying hard enough or experiencing a physical/mental limitation, whether we need inspiration, self-discipline, or a nap.” (p. 26)

Susan Wendell, 2001. Unhealthy Disabled: Treating Chronic Illness as Disabilities. Hypatia, 16.4, pp 17 – 33

BRB, just embroidering this on a sampler.

Although, in genuine honesty, this paper was the first I ever read on the subject of disability, back when I was just getting interested in looking at my own disability, and the quote above made me grin and go “someone else gets this! And if they can be a proper academic, so can I!”


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