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Personal relationships

It must be said straight away that disabled people have relationships as deep and lasting as non-disabled people, making the same choices in sexual and personal relationships as anyone else.

First Steps

Adolescence and young adulthood are difficult phases in all people’s lives. Not only are we coming to terms with the emotional and physical changes taking place, we are also going through a period of heightened self-awareness. This is the time when many disabled young people may feel, perhaps for the first time, that they are "different" and self-doubt or low self-esteem can set in.

Young disabled people may start to feel embarrassed about their disability and find it difficult to go out and meet new people. If this is the case, it might suit some people to make contact with organisations such as the Handidate Introduction Agency. As an alternative, Disability Now newspaper accepts personal advertisements under its classified ads section. There are also organisations specifically for gay disabled people such as Gemma, Regard, the Gay Visually Impaired Group and the Deaf Lesbian and Gay Group.

The Next Stage

Relationships will develop naturally and a young disabled person’s first sexual encounter will probably be as tentative and bewildering as anyone’s, but with experience and confidence will also become as fulfilling.

Many people, however, have sexual problems from time to time and some disabled people may find these are compounded because of physical or emotional difficulties. These problems can almost always be overcome, given a little practical advice and the exercise of imagination and tolerance between partners.

A number of disability organisations have trained counsellors who know about a specific disability from personal experience. The Brook Centres offer counselling for emotional or sexual problems and the Family Planning Association provides a nationwide information and education service on all aspects of family planning, sexuality and reproductive health.

SPOD (the Association to Aid the Sexual and Personal Relationships of People with Disabilities) provides specialist advice and information on various aspects of disability and sexuality. It produces leaflets and runs courses, and is able to put people in touch with a counsellor if required.

Relate (National Marriage Guidance) provides services to people of any age, either sex, in any circumstances, who are worried about personal relationships. You do not need to be married or, indeed, in a heterosexual relationship to contact Relate. Local centres are listed in the phone book under "marriage guidance" or under Relate.

And Finally ... Disabled people in a stable relationship may well decide to start a family. ParentAbility, which is supported by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), is a national peer support network for parents with disabilities. It has a register of disabled parents who are willing to share their experiences, and publishes a resource list and a quarterly newsletter. The NCT has a network of local groups and can also help with ante-natal classes, give information on breast feeding, and offer post-natal support. ParentAbility, NCT and RADAR are part of Parents - Too, which seeks to empower disabled parents in getting the services, support and resources they want and need.

Maternity Alliance has a disability working group which includes parents with disabilities and advises on all aspects of the Alliance’s work. The Alliance has a number of publications including a charter for disabled parents and parents-to-be.

Further Information

Any of the organisations mentioned above will provide further information and advice for disabled people on personal relationships.

Carers association

We are indebted to RADAR for providing the information for this section.