Similarly, Bishakha Datta from Mumbai, the founder of Point Of View, a Mumbai- based non-profit organisation working to empower women, and CREA, a New Delhi-based feminist human rights organisation, started a website three years ago as a resource about everything in the intersection of disability and sexuality for women.
In May, the two groups raised more that Rs 13 lakhs through a crowd-funding campaign to vastly expand the scope of the initiative by translating the website into other languages and starting on-ground training all over the country.
Called sexualityandisability.org, the website addresses myths and offers guidance to disabled women about how to navigate this part of their lives better.
“We wanted to put together the information available in scattered places about the unvoiced questions and concerns of the disabled and their kin about things like loving your own body, relationships, getting married, having kids, and taking care of them,” Datta said. “But we found that there’s a negligible amount of authoritative information. There are many who live with the notion that sex would be the last thing on the mind of a disabled person, but why should it be?”
Many organisations in India address other needs of the disabled, such as training them in appropriate skills, helping them find jobs and providing healthcare, but Datta's initiative is perhaps among the first to focus on sexuality.
To benefit from a first-hand perspective, the organisations roped in Nidhi Goyal, a disability and gender rights activist. “As someone who is visually impaired, I can tell you that I have faced social segregation on multiple occasions,” said Goyal. “The objective of this initiative is to humanise disabled people and make the point that they are entitled to a humane life with the same activities as everyone else.”
The website is structured as a series of questions that people might have on a wide range of topics related to the disability, from love and relationships to sexual harassment and domestic violence, and offers answers to these. The idea, Datta said, is to change the perspective of the disabled too and make them believe in their own power and help them understand that they do not have to exchange a sexual life for educational support from their families.
“If people don’t tell the disabled member of the family about these things, they would never know and would always live with the idea that they are not supposed to get married or raise children,” she said. “We wanted people to imbibe these things without giving them moral lectures, cutting to the chase on what’s important and why.”
Some parts of the site are explicit, but Datta expressed hope that people will stop using metaphors and start talking about things in actual terms to help themselves and those around them. Interviews with disabled women from various sections of society were carried out to better understand their concerns. The website carries their stories, helping others realise that it is not a sin to think of their own well-being.
“These stories help women remember that people from their own community have to deal with the same issues,” said Goyal. “It gives them hope to see someone rise above obstacles and courage to deal with their own.”
How does a visually impaired person read what’s on the site? “The site is developed keeping the disability in mind. It has special features that make it accessible to even those without vision,” Goyal said. “It can be read through a screen reader, which converts text to speech."
The organisations plan to increase coverage and translate what is there into as many languages as possible. “The site is already available in over 13 languages because people called us from different parts of the world and wanted to read the content,” Datta said. “We realised we couldn’t leave what we had started, and the site is now available even in Serbian as more are being added.”
Keen to go beyond the online realm and cater to those who are not yet connected to the internet, the organisations plan to hold training workshops for the disabled.. “It’s important that they understand what goes on in their bodies and then to decide how they should navigate life,” Datta said. “We will start with the visually impaired, and assist them in understanding their bodies, and then team with other organisations and reach out to other disabled groups.”
“The idea is that these people should be able enough to impart this training to their own communities without us having to do it from top to bottom,” she said.
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