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Disability, Sexuality and Relationships-Supporting service users to make choices.

  • Radisson Blu Hotel, Northgate Street
  • 9.30 Registration, 10.00 - 4.00 Event
  • 24 Oct 2017

This Conference has been jointly run by Social Care Ireland & the Irish Association of Social workers. It was postponed earlier on in the year, it is now being held in Athlone.


Presentations from the conference have been uploaded to


Background and Context

Knowing how best to vindicate the rights of people with disabilities in relation to sexuality and reproductive health can be a complex matter for many Health and Social Care Professions (HSCP). Domestic and international policy and legislation conflicts while professionals themselves share a wide variety of ethical perspectives in relation to sexuality and reproductive rights. For example, a survey by the National Disability Authority in 2011 found that just 51% of the Irish public believe that people with intellectual disabilities are entitled to have sexual relationships while 38% thought people with intellectual disabilities had a right to have children. The right of all people to sexuality and to sexual and reproductive health is recognised in a range of international conventions and treaties. However, domestic legislation in this area takes a different and conflicting approach, emphasising the protection of people with disabilities and placing severe limits on the kinds of intimate relationships people with intellectual disabilities can have. In addition, many professionals are in the process of familiarising themselves with the HSE Safeguarding Vulnerable Persons at Risk of Abuse Policy and Procedures. The very recent enactment of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 will further impact on this area bringing with it new responsibilities for many HSCPs.


Provisional Programme:

9.30 – 10am: Registration and Welcome

10am – 11am: Sexuality and Intellectual Disability – John Ryan, Principal Social Worker, KARE

John will explore the past, present and the possible future in relation to people with an intellectual disability having a meaningful intimate relationship. John will explore supports and provision of information and education regarding relationships and sexuality. He will also highlight and discuss some of the potential conflicts that service providers may experience trying to balance the need for expression with the need to protect vulnerable service users. He will share how his organisation KARE have over the years both developed policy and practice in this area.

11am – 11.50am: Pauline Sheils, Clinical Nurse Specialist in sexuality and disability, National Rehabilitation Hospital

Pauline will explore the use of the PLISSIT Model, a four step framework for engaging with and discussing sexual health issues and well-being with service users.

11.50 – 12.10: Comfort Break

12.10- 1pm: Jim Gogarty, Gogarty Consultancy

Jim will explore how beliefs and perceptions of sexuality and disability influence practice and policy with regard to service delivery for people with disability.


1pm – 1.45pm Lunch


1.45 -2.15pm: Short Video

2.15 – 3.45pm: Concurrent Workshops (Choose one)

Workshop 1

Disability, relationships and sexuality: self advocates' stories

Facilitator: Dr. Michael Feely and a self-advocacy group with Intellectual disabilities.

This workshop will explore, with a self-advocacy group with intellectual disabilities, their experiences of forming relationships within a service. It will explore service users needs, opportunities and barriers for developing relationships when in receipt of support.

Workshop 2

Building Capacity to Choose – Capacity, Consent and Sexual Relationships

Facilitator: Josephine Mcloughlin

This 90 minute workshop will focus on building decision making capacity with regard to sexuality and intimate relationships. Participants will examine a proposed method called the E.N.A.B.L.E. Model. This is a tool that is used to support an individual as they make choices and decisions about their sexuality and intimate relationships. The model ensures that the information and support provided is governed not by the beliefs and values of any one individual or organization but by a set of parameters that objectively covers every aspect of the decision making progress. The model incorporates the principles and values of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the proposed Irish legal context and information and strategies to use when building decision making capacity.

Josephine is the founder of and is a qualified Social Care Leader with over 20 years' experience in the childcare and disability sector. In 2015 Josephine completed an LL.M (Master of Law) in International and Comparative Disability Law and Policy achieving first class honours and in addition was awarded the Centre of Disability Law and Policy gold medal for excellence.

3.45pm-4pm: Final Q&A and Close


Conference Aims

A key aim of the conference is to provide HSCPs with the opportunity to consider how organisations can balance the rights and needs of service users with regard to relationships and sexuality and to clarify the policy and legislative contexts for HSCPs and service users with disabilities.

The conference aims to provide participants with

  • An increased understanding of needs of the service user group, the needs of their families, and how best to respond to same; increased awareness of the supports available to professions and services to do this work;increased knowledge of how organisational policies and procedures can support the provision of safe and effective services;
  • Information as to how HSCPs can work to reduce the risk of people with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, experiencing sexual abuse and/or exploitation;
  • An understanding of how organisational policies and staff training support consistency of approach among HSCPs in residential, community and other service settings.