by Natalia Hicks, Director of Community Justice & Health Equity, Inclusion Canada

December 1st is World AIDS Day. The theme for 2022 is “Equalize.” 

As the Director of Community Justice and Health Equity at Inclusion Canada, I have been participating in Realize’s National Guiding Circle on HIV and Disability. The Guiding Circle is a cross disability space pushing back against ableism in sexual health information, supports, and services, including those related to HIV, Hep C, and other Sexually Transmitted and Blood Borne Infections. For me, so far, it has been a space of learning and reflection.  

So how can we lean in to the United Nations’ goal to address inequality and help end AIDS? Here’s some initial thoughts on the intersections of intellectual disability and HIV/AIDS.

  1. The way that we talk about risk matters. A lot of what has been written about people with intellectual disabilities’ risk for contracting HIV is medicalized. Academic literature tends to point out that people with intellectual disabilities might not be the best at doing risk assessments or that they may struggle with consistently using condoms, for example. While these things may be true, a medicalized take overlooks so much, because…

  2. Until people with intellectual disabilities’ human rights are achieved, safer sex will be tricky! Here’s an example: Adults with intellectual disabilities more often live with their families or in congregate settings like group homes. Because of this, their sex lives are more highly regulated. Without privacy, people may choose to have rushed, public, or otherwise risky sex. This in turn puts people with intellectual disabilities at risk for contracting HIV or being charged with a crime. This is a systemic issue, which can only be addressed by realizing rights to privacy and life in community.
  1. Stereotypes put people with disabilities at risk for violence. Some people with disabilities – often those assigned female at birth – are seen to be non-sexual, innocent, or pure. Others – often those assigned male at birth – are seen to be hyper-sexual, animalistic, or impulsive. Both these stereotypes set people with intellectual disabilities up to be seen as sexual deviants. And these stereotypes are associated with higher rates of sexual assault, and the tendency to dismiss people with intellectual disabilities when they come forward with allegations.

  2. Accessible and inclusive comprehensive sex education is hard to come by. Statistically speaking, people with intellectual disabilities receive less sex education than their peers. And the sex ed that is provided has to pass through many different filters. Those adapting sex ed curriculums and those delivering sex ed curriculums to people with intellectual disabilities may be tempted to limit possibilities or make judgement calls about what is considered appropriate.

  3. Our Provincial and Territorial organizations and their partners are hard at work to overcome these barriers. Check out the resources below, or reach out to your local federation member to learn more: