TORONTO - A party meant to give people with disabilities a chance to explore and express their sexuality is shining a spotlight on an enduring and often ignored barrier for those with physical and mental limitations.
But though guests at the Deliciously Disabled party, to be held in Toronto next week, are free to act on their consensual desires, don't call it an orgy.
"An orgy is when everybody comes together and has sex together," said Fatima Mechtab, one of the event's organizers. "This is a sex-positive play party."
"The difference is that people can attend the event but they don't have to participate if they don't want to — they can be voyeurs, they can enjoy it like you would enjoy any other type of party... but then there's the added bonus of being able to be intimate with your partner or explore some sexual activity if you want to."
The Aug. 14 event, a masquerade that will take place in a wheelchair-accessible theatre, is believed to be the first of its kind in Canada.
Most discussions on accessibility focus on physical barriers, but the event's organizers said it's also important to look at the emotional and social hurdles that people with disabilities face, such as the widespread belief that they aren't sexual beings.
"Access (to sexuality) is such a major barrier for people with disabilities — I don't think there's any other group in society that, depending on the level of their physical limitation, can't even pleasure themselves sexually," said Stella Palikarova, a disability awareness consultant.
"You can imagine trying to go through life being completely unable to have any sort of sexual relief or even to think that you are perceived by others as being sexually desirable or a sexual person," said Palikarova, who uses a wheelchair.
"That becomes a really major human rights issue for me."
Palikarova, Mechtab and Andrew Morrison-Gurza, another disability awareness consultant, began planning the event several months ago but struggled to find an appropriate venue.
Mechtab, who works at the Toronto sex club Oasis Aqualounge, initially suggested holding it there, but quickly realized the historic building isn't wheelchair accessible.
Finding a location that was both accessible and allowed nudity and sex proved a challenge, she said.
The group eventually booked the Buddies in Bad Times theatre, not far from Oasis. The space can hold 125 people including roughly 25 wheelchairs. Tickets are $20 each.
Personal support workers can attend for free, and there will be interpreters for the hearing impaired.
The event is set to take place during the Parapan Am Games, which began Friday and end next weekend. The international competition has drawn more than 1,000 athletes with disabilities to the Toronto region.
Palikarova said the timing isn't purely coincidental.
"Some of the athletes perhaps might be interested in coming to an event like this," she said.
As buzz around the event grows, a spokeswoman with the Council of Canadians With Disabilities said the issue the party seeks to highlight is an important one.
"The reality is that we are sexual beings," said vice-chair Path Danforth. "It's an issue that remains seldom talked about, which I find quite bizarre."
Danforth, who uses a wheelchair, said she's met a number of individuals with significant disabilities who've told her "no one ever gave them permission before to be sexual."
"With this event, one of the things it will do is it will give people permission to have an opportunity to explore their own sexuality," she said. "If it's in such a way that it's demonstrating a healthy take on sexuality, then that's a good thing. It makes people aware and it makes some people less uncomfortable."