ROCHESTER, Minn. – The Arc Minnesota is an organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of people with disabilities.
One way it’s doing this is by hosting a discussion on Thursday on how to educate people who are closely connected to people with disabilities, about sexuality.
“It’s to reach both people with disabilities and disabilities service professionals in the community who are interested in becoming trainer themselves and interested in getting information they need to teach this topic to people they might serve, friends, or the community,” Mitch Gunderson-Palmer, Programs and Services Supervisor at The Arc Minnesota, said.
Brian Shreifels is leading the discussion with Gunderson-Palmer. Thriving through is own developmental disabilities, this is a personal and important topic to Shreifels.
“I’ve been wanting to discuss this topic for over 10 years,” Shreifels said. “To get the stigma, the fear, and the stereotypes out in the open…resolve them…so that way individuals with special needs and individuals without special needs can be treated equally.”
Gunderson-Palmer describes the stereotypes.
“Things like people with disabilities do not have a sexuality, that they’re not interested in relationships, that they’re not sexually active, or cannot be sexually active,” he said.
By teaching others how to engage in conversation about people with disabilities and sexuality, Gunderson-Palmer and Shreifels hope bring normalcy to the topic.
“It’s fear-based and it’s significantly taboo,” Shreifels said.
He said by breaking the stereotype of this topic, people with special needs can be closer to equality.
“Empathy, sympathy, respect…you can’t emphasize them enough,” he said. “People with special needs have feelings, we’re human beings, and we deserve to be treated like such.”