The Ohio University Women’s Center hosted it first Thirsting for Knowledge Thursdays event on Sept. 27.
The guest speaker was Emily Yates, an accessibility consultant, travel writer and TV presenter who lives in Glasgow, Scotland. As a wheelchair user, she has spent much of her time ensuring accessibility for all on a global scale.
Yates recently worked for MetroRio to implement access and inclusion measures at their 36 underground stations ahead of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. She also wrote the Lonely Planet Guide to Accessible Rio de Janeiro to enable disabled tourists, athletes and locals to embrace the city during the games.
Now, she has set up her own accessible travel guide business, Globe Hopper Guides, and is studying for a doctoral degree in disability and gender studies at the University of York, where she is focusing on the issue of Body Identity Integrity Disorder (BIID).
During the workshop, Yates discussed how we can all better integrate disabilities into the discussion of sexuality. She talked about her work with Enhance the UK, her academic research on BIID, and other cultural issues surrounding disabilities.
Enhance the UK is a charity and a user-led website that provides disability awareness training and body awareness and self-esteem workshops in universities across the UK and abroad. The charity also runs a program called the “Love Lounge,” which provides a platform for people with disabilities and their loved ones to discuss how to have a fulfilling sex life and relationship by reclaiming sexuality.
After introducing Enhance the UK, Yates opened up the room for discussion on a number of topics, including how to implement disabilities in sexual education and dating apps.
“The whole point of this topic is that it’s really important that you don’t spend an hour listening to me and my thoughts and opinions, but you actually have time to form some of your own and discuss,” Yates said. “A lot of work around disability and sexuality is not black and white. There’s a lot of gray areas, so we need to discuss them.”
Yates’ academic research on BIID is a type of body dysmorphia where people without a disability do not feel comfortable in their own skin, and decide that they want to permanently disable themselves.
“It’s not like getting a tattoo where you want more and more,” Yates explained. “You have this idea of the perfect body image in your mind. It might be losing a few fingers or having an amputated leg or not being able to see. Your mission to becoming whole is to make that happen.”
At the end of her presentation, Yates asked for questions from the audience.
“I think that the questions as well as Emily’s presentation raised the issue that there’s not a clean answer for anything. As we’re exploring issues of consent movements and healthy representations of sexuality, we need to think about inclusivity for all populations,” said Dr. M. Geneva Murray, director of the Women’s Center.
“Our whole concept, really, is changing society’s view of disability,” Yates said. “A lot of perceptions do need to be changed and hopefully this presentation will help in terms of discussing ideas, opinions and perceptions on disability and sexuality.”
The next Thirsting for Knowledge Thursdays event will be held at noon Oct. 11 at noon. For more information on the event, visit https://www.ohio.edu/womens-center/thirsting-knowledge-thursdays.