Sex Ed...the Disability Take

As so many in my circles have been talking about this week, you may have heard that Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum was released this week. As two of my primary interests in business are education and sexuality, and bringing a disability positive approach to those areas, there is no better subject for my Sunday blog. So here it is; my thoughts on the new curriculum and the role of disability within it. Enjoy!

First off, I think its prudent to begin my monologue with an outlining of my own experiences with sex ed in the mid-to-late nineties. To be blunt, I don’t remember ever receiving anything of the sort, and when I look back at it, I realize that my ‘get out of gym card’ was likely to blame. I never took gym, therefore never took health, therefore never took sex ed. So, although I was never actively excluded from the subject, I was never fully included either. This is the narrative that I hear from many fellow disabled people of my generation. The reality is that, even if we were included, our bodily differences made most of the information irrelevant. As a result, I was forced to look elsewhere for my sexual education as a horny teenager…thank you Friday nights on Showcase

But let’s fast forward to the current curriculum. I’ll start with the good stuff. I am actually pleasantly surprised by the amount of mentions of disability and mental illness. Granted, I had set a pretty low bar for satisfaction, expecting disability to be an afterthought if that. But, after reading it, I am pleased that there had at least been some effort made to include disability. For example, in the grade 8 curriculum, reference is made to people with disabilities possibly needing adapted material. The ‘equity and inclusion’ portion of the document eludes to the fact that people with disabilities deserve the same education as all other students. Is it perfect? Not by a long shot, but it at least may start the conversation earlier than it would have  been in my adolescent years.

It would be remiss of me if I did not at least devote a paragraph to addressing the controversy that surrounds this being released from a disability perspective. Let me say flat out that I am glad that the curriculum exists, because teens need to be supported in their exploration. This is especially true for disabled teens, who are often left on the fringes of this exploration. I agree with many that parents should have a role in their child’s education, but in the context of disability, many parents are lost and do not have the knowledge to pass along. So, while I understand some of the hesitation, I absolutely think it is critical to have this in the school system.

Here’s my biggest problem with the approach to disability in the sex ed curriculum, or at least the biggest potential problem that I see. I think it falls victim to the same fundamental flaw of the general curriculum’s idea of disability; it does not celebrate difference. It makes disability an ‘other’ identity, and something that separates those with disabilities from the rest of the students. In other words, I think that every student, regardless of their physical or cognitive ability, should be educated in sex ed with disability in mind. Much like the lack of disability presence in the rest of the curriculum, I think that separating it will continue to draw negative attention to disability

So here’s my final thought. I am pleased to see how much disability made it into the curriculum, but I am hesitant how it will play out in practice. Will teachers know what to do with disability? Will we exacerbate some of the same problems that have plagued the spec ed curriculum for generations? I am eager to see how the questions get answered with a disability positive angle, but at the very least, I am glad they are being asked.

BLOGGER’S NOTE: This was supposed to be posted on Sunday, but there was a one day technical delay. Apologies!