MA Diploma Disability Studies
I decided to write a review on the social group known as The Outsiders. The group's main aim is to enable disabled adults to form personal relationships, including specifically sexual ones (Shakespeare 1996), either with each other or with non-disabled members. The group has been in existence for several years, and has attracted a great deal of attention, including reaction from present and former members, and in particular from within the Disabled People's Movement . Many of the comments made by former members of the group have been critical, sometimes highly condemnatory, and frequently made by disabled women (Rae 1984).
In both my professional and private capacity I am interested in sexuality and disability, and specifically in the ways in which disabled adults can establish meaningful relationships with other people (disabled or on-disabled). Issues such as sexuality and the forming of relationships are regularly discussed in mainstream youth and community work, but rarely with regard to disabled people (which is not surprising since disabled people are often absent from mainstream groups). Indeed, it is only in the last few years that disabled people themselves have been in the forefront of this debate, and the leading protagonist have usually been activists within the wider disability movement, who are well aware of other social and sexual issues such as gender, sexism, homophobia, and so on. The Outsiders was set up (and is still fronted by) an able bodied woman who for many years has been well known in the controversial arena of sexual liberation and soft-core pornography, so it is hardly surprising that her group has both supporters and critics. A recent BBC-2 documentary series (From the Edge) devoted a whole programme to the group, and this essay picks up the main themes that were aired.
SEXUALITY AND DISABILITY
Morris (1989) writes "once we first become disabled we are usually denied any form of sexual identity." It is certainly true that among the many negative stereotypes of disability some of the most commonly held views are that disabled people are non-sexual, or sometimes asexual beings, or that they are likely to be attracted only to each other.
THE OUTSIDERS CLUB
The Outsiders Club was established by Tuppy Owens in 1979. Tuppy, a self- proclaimed stalwart campaigner for sexual equality, and a trained sex therapist. She conceived the idea of a social group for disabled adults after her close male friend, Nigel, became blind. Fearful of the effect of disability ever afflicting her own life - and blindness in particular - she became determined to assist Nigel in any way she could. She began by taking Nigel to parties where she described to him in great detail what other women were wearing, and took delight in it. She claimed that this enabled him to have more fun, as he could imagine what women were wearing, even though he could not see them. One question raised by this is: whose needs were being fulfilled? I have already suggested that many able-bodied people have quite misguided views concerning issues of sexuality and disability, so was Tuppy fulfilling a sexual fantasy of her own, or performing a valid role for her friend? (Shakespeare, Gillespie-Sells et al. 1996).
The club produces its own Practical Suggestions Guide, a guide considered offensive and oppressive by some members of the disability movement (Shakespeare, Gillespie-Sells et al. 1996). The reason for this view is that the guide's content is based around a medical model of disability which suggests that disabled people's problems are due to their impairments, not to environmental and attitudinal factors (Oliver 1996). In other words, in the view of the critics the guide fails to acknowledge the dominant model of disability which is widely propagated by the disability movement. There is a 'medical' side...