Robin Mandell is presenting The Nuts and Bolts of Accessibility. Check out Robin’s bio here.
1. How do you see yourself as a catalyst for change?
The mere fact of my existence as a visibly disabled woman in public spaces is a reminder of disabled people and the real and equal role we play in this world. While I don’t publicly express myself in explicitly sexual ways, I’d like to think that in talking about sex I’m challenging assumptions about the role sex plays in disabled people’s lives.
As a disabled person, I can freely, as a peer, enter spaces inhabited by disabled people, both cyber and in-person, to talk about sexuality and relationships, to provide support and education around sexual trauma, to promote reproductive justice activism, and more. As a voice in the sexuality field, I can and will continue to bring the lives of disabled people to the forefront of discussion and education in spaces like catalyst.
2. Who or what was a catalyst for you?
So many people; so many things. Of late it’s been the articulate voices of disabled activists on social media. There are so many smart, creative, active folks there. You can follow Gimp Girl (@GimpGirl on twitter) to find a small sample of what and who I’m talking about.
3. What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges or concerns facing us in the field of sexuality right now?
Most of what we hear or read in the news, or watch on TV and in movies, about sex, whether it’s consensual sex or sexualized violence, is sensationalized to the point of being wrong, insensitive, misleading, or all three. There have been too many reports of the criminal justice system not treating sexualized violence as the serious crime it is. Mainstream society isn’t a safe place to talk about healthy, pleasureful sexuality, to seek support as a survivor of sexualized violence, or to coalesce around reducing the incidence of violence. While sex, and violence that is sexualized, are two different things, I think that society’s inability to coherently talk about either is what is at the root of a lot that is wrong right now.
4. What do you feel are some of the most important/valuable positive changes that have been made in the world of sexuality in the past year?
I’m hopeful that the FDA’s decision to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter for everyone will improve access to it and result in increased knowledge about what EC does and doesn’t do. It’s a valuable tool for reproductive justice and for people’s health care.
I’m also really pleased to see activists calling universities and colleges to task for the way they’ve historically handled (or not handled) student safety and sexual violence prevention on campus.
5. Why do you feel it is important to bring this topic The Nuts and Bolts of Accessibility to CatalystCon East?
This is going to be a little bit of a ramble; it’s too important to me to work up soundbites.
Disability is something a lot of people fear, and that fear can translate to uncertainty around people who have disabilities. This is often a gut-level fear, one that people may not be consciously aware of. There are also a lot of misconceptions and prejudices out there around living with disability and being a sexual being; there’s overlap here with reproductive justice and sexualized violence concerns.
As professionals in sexualities and relationships fields, we’re not immune to prejudices and misconceptions.
Ensuring that people with disabilities or illnesses can access our sexuality and relationships related services or products isn’t as simple as just deciding to include us and—poof–it happens. It’s not difficult, either. Including people with disabilities does often require changes which typically have not been part of the way mainstream society goes about its business. In other words, making services available isn’t just about shedding prejudices and expanding philosophies; it may take real changes in how things are done.
Changes to laws and requirements for institutions to comply with those laws are terrific. I want to take it down to the individual and small business level. My goal is to take the realm of disability “accommodation” from something “special” to something run-of-the-mill.
In other words, I want for all of us to build the things we would do to give disabled people access to our services or materials into everything we offer, whether we know for sure it’s being accessed by someone with any given disability or not.
I don’t have all the answers, but I will raise the questions and provide practical tools.
6. Share one unknown (or little known) fact about yourself
Not many people know that I have an excessive fondness for the baby corn cobs often found in stir-fries at Chinese restaurants.
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