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UEL psychologist investigates disability and sexuality in South Africa 

east london and thames river

Dr Poul Rohleder aims to break down misconceptions about the sexuality of people with disabilities

By Lee Pinkerton

A University of East London (UEL) psychologist has spearheaded a ground-breaking project looking at attitudes to disability and sexuality in South Africa.
The ‘Disability and Sexuality Project’, led by Dr Poul Rohleder from UEL’s School of Psychology, documents the stories of people with physical disabilities. It includes personal testimony, photographs, short video interviews, a longer documentary film and related publications. The material can be accessed on the website
It is a topic that has long been of interest to Dr Rohleder, who hopes the website and documentary film will be used to raise awareness and to educate young people about disability and sexuality. The documentary film, for example, can be used by teachers and lecturers as a resource, he said. 
Dr Rohleder said, “My PhD was on the extent to which people with disabilities were included in HIV prevention education in South Africa. 
“Since then I have conducted research on the delivery of sex education to young people with learning disabilities in the UK. This current project challenges the myths of the sexuality of people with physical disabilities in South Africa.” 
Though the disabled contributors are at the centre of the project, the main target audience are the non-disabled, Dr Rohleder said. The goal is to challenge the assumptions and misconceptions some people have about the sexual lives of people with physical disabilities. 
Dr Rohleder said, "Often they are assumed to be non-sexual or incapable of leading sexual lives, and this is not true.” 
The research team was international, with academics from Stellenbosch University in South Africa, the Department of Health Research in Norway; the Southern African Federation of the Disabled in Botswana and two academics from the University of East London (UEL) – Dr Rohleder and Dr Mark Carew - participating.
Just as the research team are international, so is the anticipated reach and scope of the project. There will be a screening of the documentary at the conference of the International Society of Critical Health Psychology in Loughborough in July and at a plenary of the Afrinead conference (The African Network for Evidence-to-Action in Disability) in Ghana in August.