Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – access to reproductive services for disabled women

The venue was the college itself in London, a building lined with rather magisterial portraits of former alumni and professors.

The conference covered all aspects of sexual and reproductive health, from sex education in schools, through to family planning and contraceptives, via pregnancy, labour and birth, with some stop-offs around the menopause and also sex workers for disabled peoples’ personal fulfilment.

I received the original invitation via the RCOG’s Women’s Voices Network, a collaborative alliance between the college and women who use relevant services to ensure the work and training provided by the college is appropriate and useful.

The range of speakers was excellent, the content equally thought provoking and exciting.

First up was equality and human rights lawyer Claire de Than whose fascinating work, supporting individuals to their right to sexual expression, or ‘fun’ as it was coined for the sake of blushes, was extremely funny as Claire is such a great speaker and sad in equal measures, given the indignities disabled and vulnerable people suffer to achieve personal intimate fulfilment.

Claire’s ability to translate complex law into humane and engaging narrative riveted me to the spot for the entire duration of her talk.

We all take the Declaration of Human Rights and the advantage bestowed by the European Court of Justice for granted. The work outlined by Claire really expressed just how far we have come in the last thirty years. It is easy to forget when you see how far much we still have to achieve.

Dr Jane Dickson (such a great twitter handle), up next, works as a Sexual and Reproductive Health Community Gynecologist. She had a great warm personal approach and made a dry subject, that of the choice of contraceptives available,  funny whilst staying on-topic. The choice and innovation possible in family planning stunned even me. Have you ever heard of a nuvaring? What a great idea!

The speaker that was especially pleasing for me to see what Alison Lapper, the artist with no arms or legs, whose naked pregnant body was created into a thirty foot high marble sculpture for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Alison was also featured as a disabled single parent in the BBC series ‘Child of our Times‘, first broadcast in the late nineties.

Alison’s disability and being a parent were hugely controversial at the time.

The bias and ignorance she encountered from health and social care staff about her ability to care for her son Parys were almost beyond belief. When I was really struggling with Mylo, I used to read chapter of the book based on the television series as there were some fantastic stories and images of the challenges that Alison had overcome in her quest towards successful parenting. It kept me going a lot of the time, as positive role models of disabled parents don’t really exist anywhere.

At the end of the individual sessions a panel formed with several other women, including some of the current leadership of the college itself. Questions from the audience were answered, the only audience participation until this moment, I put a question to the whole room at this point, rather than just the speakers about if anyone had any knowledge or experience of the needs of neurodivergent women in relation to their disability and accessing sexual health or reproductive services.

You could have heard a pin drop.

One of the speakers had an Autistic women speak at her own event previously (I forget the detail) however this was much more broad in its application, including her experience of sexuality and disability as well as lived experience of autism.

Given the invitation was extended via the women’s network I was expecting more of an open forum approach to the event.I was a little surprised that there was less audience contribution and participation. That being said, the quality of the speakers was absolutely excellent. The closing comments, given by the event’s partner organisation, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, acknowledged the event was just the start of quite a long neglected area for the RCOG. They have made an excellent start in rectifying this, and I hope and look forward to any other opportunities I might have to visit and learn more again in the future.

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