This entry is shortlisted in the 2012 Peer Award “Education for the Community” category
All About Us
informing people with learning disabilities about relationships, sex and sexuality
There has been considerable progress in tackling obstacles experienced by people with learning disabilities with regard to education, employment and housing issues. Similar progress is less evident around relationships and sexual health. This is ironic given the high priority that people with learning disabilities place on having friends and a desire to be more knowledgeable about sexuality. It is important to view people with learning disabilities holistically and improve their lives by affording them their human rights and dignity but it is also essential to respond appropriately to their cognitive level and equip them with the knowledge to protect themselves.
The initiative enables people with learning disability to develop a sense of self and of belonging and increases their capacity to develop strong relationship bonds and personal and social resilience. It provides a basis for more confident engagement by people with learning disability in community, civic and social life thus enhancing their community health and wellbeing.
The outcome is that people with learning disability will be sexually healthy and therefore will have the right, capacity and freedom to enjoy and express their sexuality without exploitation, oppression, physical and emotional harm. This right is often denied to people with learning disability.
A joint FPA/ University of Ulster three year research project confirmed the lack of accessible education and information on sexual health for people with learning disabilities. Consequently they do not have the same opportunities to form friendships and relationships as those without a disability and many lead lonely lives. This inevitably impacts on their health and wellbeing and they continue to be one of the most disadvantaged groups in society. All about us was designed to empower people with learning disabilities and challenge their social exclusion.
It is believed to be the only resource of its kind in the world.[/one_half_last]
It was a challenge for FPA and Aurion to get it right in terms of content, design and accessibility and there were many false starts. However people with learning disabilities, their carers, support workers and professionals whom they encounter in their daily lives were involved at all stages in the resource development. This ensured the relevance of the resource.
After publication it was criticised for not being accessible for people with hearing impairment. In Phase 2 (2011) it was adapted to include British sign-language interpreter option.
Despite some of the content being potentially contentious the resource has only attracted positive comments from users. It has been used by FPA in training events for professionals who work with people with learning disabilities in countries such as Latvia and Macedonia. It has attracted international markets in New Zealand, Australia and the Czech Republic and several countries such as Iceland, Latvia and Israel have expressed an interest in translating it for use in their countries.
Most important of all people with learning disabilities have reported that they now feel more informed and confident around relationships and sexual health issues.[/one_half_last]
Audrey has been Director of FPA in Northern Ireland since 1988.
Audrey was awarded a PhD for her research into the theory and practice of relationships and sexuality education in post-primary schools in Northern Ireland. She is co-author of two Northern Ireland wide research initiatives into sexual health and wellbeing, one of which focuses on people with learning disabilities.
In 2005 Audrey was awarded the OBE for services to health in Northern Ireland.