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Photos focus on disability


Lauren Priestley, January 2014

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.”