Pho­tos fo­cus on dis­abil­ity


CERE­BRAL palsy doesn’t stop Anna Nel­son from feel­ing sexy. And she’s happy to talk about it. The CBD res­i­dent is one of four women with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties in­volved in a photography ex­hi­bi­tion called Do You Think I’m Sexy? at CCS Dis­abil­ity Ac­tion in Royal Oak.

The dis­play aims to spark de­bate around the taboo topic of sex­u­al­ity and dis­abil­ity and the pho­tos were taken by each of the par­tic­i­pants.

The pic­tures are not as provoca­tive as you might imag­ine.

One im­age is a close-up of a young woman’s eyes; another fea­tures a tree and another shows a flower.

Each is cap­tioned by the artist and ex­plains their thoughts on how their sex­u­al­ity re­lates to their dis­abil­ity.

Miss Nel­son has cere­bral palsy, an um­brella term used for a group of con­di­tions that can af­fect body move­ment and co-or­di­na­tion.

The dis­abil­ity im­pacts the left side of her body, es­pe­cially her left arm, and means she has low mus­cle tone, poor pos­ture and bal­ance.

But the lively 34-year-old doesn’t let it de­fine her and the ex­hi­bi­tion is a way of show­ing peo­ple that.

‘‘This is an op­por­tu­nity to say

‘hey, look at me. I’m sexy’. I’m not just a woman with a dis­abil­ity. There’s a whole lot more to me than that.’’

Liv­ing with cere­bral palsy can be a mixed bag, she says.

Of­ten it is the first thing peo­ple ask her about but at other times it is point­edly ig­nored.

‘‘I don’t mind when I get asked. That way I get to tell them ac­tu­ally how it is in­stead of hop­ing they get it right.

‘‘The big­gest im­pact for me is so­cial – the way I’m treated and the re­ac­tions I get.’’

Miss Nel­son was ap­proached in mid 2011 to get in­volved in the ex­hi­bi­tion and en­cour­age other young women to do the same as part of an AUT re­search project.

A group of four got to­gether and had reg­u­lar dis­cus­sions about the theme un­til late 2012.

‘‘When I started ask­ing around it be­came ob­vi­ous that many young fe­males with a dis­abil­ity are shy,’’ she says.

‘‘In the end the group of us be­came com­fort­able enough to talk about the dif­fi­cult stuff ... the sexy stuff. It’s stuff that just isn’t dis­cussed openly.’’

Watch­ing re­ac­tions at the launch of the ex­hi­bi­tion was one of the best parts of be­ing in­volved, she says. More than 100 peo­ple turned up.

‘‘At the launch some­body asked me ‘am I go­ing to go red?’ as in, was it go­ing to be raunchy. I said: ‘ Take a look and you tell me’. She came back and said ‘it’s noth­ing like I imag­ined – it’s bet­ter’. That was fan­tas­tic to hear.’’

CCS Dis­abil­ity Ac­tion team leader Su­san Sher­rard says the ex­hi­bi­tion is a real aware­ness-rais­ing op­por­tu­nity.

Ms Sher­rard was orig­i­nally ap­proached by AUT re­searchers to find par­tic­i­pants for the project and says the or­gan­i­sa­tion was hon­oured to be in­volved.

‘‘It’s a topic that’s im­por­tant to dis­abled peo­ple and dis­abled women in par­tic­u­lar. We are of­ten con­sid­ered to be non-sex­ual and not seen as sex­ual be­ings.

‘‘I think peo­ple will get in­trigued and re­ally ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing that’s dif­fer­ent and start think­ing about dis­abled peo­ple and sex­u­al­ity in a dif­fer­ent way.’’


Chal­lenge ac­cepted: Anna Nel­son loves the con­ver­sa­tions that are start­ing up be­cause of the photography ex­hi­bi­tion.

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