»

Ain’t I A Girl/Woman, Too? My Presentation on the Sexuality & Womanhood of Disabled Females at SC Campaign

Leave a Comment

RYV-PPT Presentation Cover-2

Last week, I had the incredible opportunity of presenting a workshop on the sexuality and womanhood of disabled females at the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy’s 2015 Summer Institute.  This was a first on many levels:  my first time attending the Summer Institute, and my first time presenting on the topic about disabled teen girls and young women.  I was undeniably nervous and eager to fulfill these new experiences, and I had hoped that both would be worthwhile.

Presentation Workshop Screenshot

Presentation summary for Summer Institute.  (Click image to enlarge for better view.)

Why Discuss This Topic?

As a disabled woman of color, it has taken me years to embrace all aspects of my personhood – my disabled status, my femininity, my womanhood, my sexuality, and my race.  Within each identity or aspect, it took educating myself and connecting with others who shared similar plights for acceptance, self-love, empowerment, and strength to flourish and take root.  None of the growth and positive thoughts and ideals about who and how I am occurred overnight; it took diligence, support, and realizing that I am “perfectly imperfect” and uniquely made for the ardent levels of individuality, self-confidence, and self worth to be visible and take hold.  I knew that I was not the only disabled female who struggled to accept herself in an “-ism”-filled society, and I felt that it was long overdue to discuss the turbulent journey that I, and millions of disabled teen girls and young women, endured and aimed to triumph over.

Being someone who is not shy about discussing sex and sexuality, it was only fitting that I looked for ways to incorporate my comfortability into a presentation topic idea.  There has been an increase in disabled teen girls and young women discussing sexuality and sex and how being disabled has impacted their experiences, so I knew that I am not alone with my interest in this area.  However, I had noticed that there were too few disabled Black women, and non-Black disabled women, speaking on this subject matter, and I wanted to add some “color” to the discussions created within the disabled community, and in the mainstream.

I had been toying with the idea about putting together this presentation since late last year, and I seized the opportunity to apply for the SC Campaign’s Summer Institute when prompted by my dear friend and mentor.  I was elated to have been chosen late March to present, and I used the past two months to outline, organize, and plan the presentation to the vision I had for it.

2015 Summer Institute – An Energizing & Empowering Conference

SC Campaign’s Summer Institute was a two-day conference held in Columbia, SC on June 10-11.  The Summer Institute offered a wide range of topics that aimed to ensure that professionals learned something new and constructive that they could utilize within their agencies, and to the clients and communities they serve.  This was the 16th year of the conference, and from those I befriended who are Summer Institute “veterans,” this is one conference that does not disappoint, and one that they look forward to.

When I attend conferences, I take inventory of the energy of the staff within the organization hosting the event, and from the attendees.  Everyone I met within SC Campaign was friendly, helpful, and excited that we were all there.  For those who knew I was presenting, they informed me that my workshop was one that they were interested in, and was eager about.  Hearing those comments made me amped, and calmed the butterflies that were in my stomach.  When it came to the attendees, everyone was ready to learn and participate within the workshops, and the attendees I met were so warm and welcoming.  The positive interactions and vibes all around allowed me to relax and fully take in the experience.

Ain’t I A Girl/Woman, Too? – Presentation Day

Presentation-PhotoBy Thursday, I had my game face on and was ready to rock it.  The encouragement from those I knew, and my new connections at the conference, gave me the confidence I needed to get in the zone.  Of course there were a few butterflies that fluttered, but as a dear friend reminded me – I looked good, I was well-prepared, I knew my stuff, and I had an audience that awaited to hear the knowledge I was prepared to share that day.  Those key affirmative reminders centered me, and quelled the nerves that tried to surface.

For the “Ain’t I A Girl/Woman, Too?” presentation, the goal I had was for attendees to leave with tools and strategies as to how they could empower disabled teen girls and young women along their sexual development journeys, and what stumbling blocks existed that prevented them from fully accepting both their sexuality and their disabled status.  Some of the topics I covered were damaging effects from a lack of sex education access, how parents stymied sexual development, myths about sexuality and disability that were internalized and pervaded society, and strategies professionals could utilize within their practices to address difficulties girls and women within these two life stages struggled with.  There was a lot of information covered within an hour and a half, but I managed to get through it all.  The personal testimonies from disabled young women, and my own story, added just the kind of uniqueness I wanted within the presentation, and effectively brought the challenges covered to full circle.

10491218_10100602398415996_3732677820090020064_n

Group discussion about the myths surrounding disability and sexuality.  (Click image to enlarge for better view.)

My attendees participated well during the two group discussions, and had a lot to share about the challenges they faced, particularly in trying to get parents more involved with what is going in with their disabled teen, and how to address disabled teens who seemed segregated or distant in group settings.  Those stories allowed me to gauge exactly what transpired on the “front lines,” so to speak, for those who are doing what they can for disabled females within their agencies and schools, and the present conflicts that affected not only them, but negatively impacted the students/clients they cared about.  There are many professionals out there who are doing great work, but they need the tools and understanding about the challenges faced by this population, and how they can assist them in overcoming those roadblocks.  Hearing from my attendees made me realize that topics like this are greatly needed, and that there are professionals who would benefit from such specialized presentations like mine.

Group discussion about the barriers professionals face in assisting disabled females along their sexual development journey

Group discussion about the barriers professionals face in assisting disabled females along their sexual development journeys.  (Click image to enlarge for better view.)

Final Thoughts

I left the Summer Institute energized and ready to present on this topic more.  I also want to expand and present on key subjects covered within it that I believe do not get as much awareness, which disadvantages both disabled females and professionals.  The rest of the year I plan to fine-tune this presentation further by developing a curriculum, and outlining the expansion topics.

Attending and presenting at the Summer Institute provided the motivation I needed for my advocacy and consulting work.  I see that there is an audience out there that is eager to learn, and I can fill that knowledge void and share my HERstory, too.

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

Leave a Reply