Originally published in Burnaby Now here.

Discussing sex and sexuality, considered a taboo subject to some, can be even more stigmatized if you are a youth or adult with diverse abilities.

That’s one reason why posAbilities, an agency providing services to those with developmental disabilities and their families, has developed a special program called LINK!, to address a possible shortfall in education.

A man and woman with disabilities sitting together on a park bench.

posAbilities has developed a special program called LINK!, to address a possible shortfall in education.

“We recognized there were a lot of questions around sexual health and education and there wasn’t anywhere for people to go get this information for youth and adults with diverse abilities,” says Becky Roth, clinical supervisor and sexual health educator with posAbilities’ Laurel Behaviour Support Services.

Last April, staff began exploring ways of delivering vital information on sex, sexuality and sexual health to groups and individuals, as well as their families and caregivers. And last September a curriculum was established.

LINK! is comprised of two mandatory sessions and eight electives. The mandatory sessions include subjects such as public vs. private, anatomy, consent, the law and peoples’ rights, which provide a foundation to address more specific topics in the electives.

“Those include discussions about online safety and pornography, safer sex practices, learning about contraceptives and STIs … the list goes on, making it relevant for people and their particular situations,” Roth says.

“We were finding that, previously, people didn’t really know what questions to ask, so they weren’t getting the information they needed to explore their sexuality and relationships of an intimate nature,” Roth says. “As a result, we were also seeing folks engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviour, as well, due to a lack of education.

“We often work with people who have been, or who could be in really vulnerable situations.”

For example, Roth says that a recent training participant shared that he didn’t know that “maybe” was not the same as “yes” when it comes to consent, and that he is more comfortable speaking to women since taking the course.

“There just weren’t a lot of positive outcomes because people were not getting the proper information to make informed choices,” Roth adds.

Now, that’s all changing, thanks to LINK!.

“One overwhelming comment that kept coming up from people enrolled in LINK! was that they finally found an environment where they felt safe and comfortable to ask questions – questions about their bodies, about consent, what they should or shouldn’t do, and sexual practices,” Roth says.

Concurrently, assistance is provided for the families of those using LINK!

“We have adapted training for caregivers, staff and parents,” Roth says. “That way, if questions came up at home, or a support setting, caregivers or family would be better equipped to have a discussion or provide resources to get more information to help to navigate sexuality, which is a complex and involved topic in and of itself.”

For more information about LINK! and how it could help, visit online at laurelbc.ca, email LINKSRS@posabilities.ca, or call 778-945-1435.