I am involved in many projects and have many passions. One of these passions is the intersection of sex positivity and disability advocacy. I’m hoping that this particular article will answer questions and/or make people more comfortable about the subject.
Maybe it’s not your thing, and that’s fine. If you do want to talk about the content of this article but maybe feel uncomfortable doing so in a public setting, please don’t hesitate to email me. I’m really open to these sorts of things. It’s taken a lot of work mentally and emotionally to accept this part of me, and publishing this to the world at large does invite vulnerability but I have found it’s necessary for me to embrace it and hope that this opens up a dialogue.
This interview was recently published in European Adult News Online Magazine. The magazine article is contained in a very unfriendly pdf to those of us who are screen reader users. It is on Page 88 if you want to try and navigate the magazine at the link above. The publisher is aware of the accessibility issues. You’ll see the irony of this as you read the interview. Here is the interview in a text format. Enjoy!
Dave Bahr sheds light on the pleasure industry‘s proverbial blind spots for disabled consumers
Disabled sex toy shoppers don’t want your politically correct pity, nor are they expecting products that walk on eggshells around their myriad different needs. Becoming a more inclusive industry doesn’t have to include terrifying missteps and call- outs. According to Dave Bahr, it’s all about ditching fear and embracing the unknown. Bahr is an all-around entrepreneur as an accomplished author, speaker, stand-up comedian, and accessibility consultant. Bahr was born blind, and like most people, disabled or otherwise, has always been interested in exploring his own sexual health; a concept that Bahr says is often assumed to be non-existent for disabled folks.
After developing a positive rapport with the BDSM community in Denver, Colorado, Bahr’s curiosity led him to the sex toy industry, where he’s since become a burgeoning figure in advocating for inclusive pleasure retail. Bahr is now offering his accessibility consulting services to pleasure-related businesses who seek to serve all consumers and create an effortless shopping experience for those with physical or mental limitations.
As Bahr points out, how can you build a retail space for disabled customers without getting them involved in the creation process? Bahr encourages a visit to his website at In-sightfulLiving.com for his full story and consulting services, but in the meantime, he’s happily given out some free advice to EAN readers on how to enhance their brands and meet disabled consumers exactly where they are.
How did you first discover your interest in the sexual health community and sex toy industry?
Dave Bahr: I’ve always been interested in safe and consensual sexual practice, but I would say that that interest became more pronounced when I was in the Denver BDSM scene. As for the sex toy industry, I’ve only recently gotten involved as an advocate and Usability Consultant.
In conversation with pleasure industry pros on Facebook, you’ve mentioned a long-standing relationship with the BDSM world. How well does this adult play space and supporting community accommodate folks with disabilities?
Dave Bahr: I’m very passionate about this and I could write an entire article on it. I would say that overall, people in this community are very accommodating. They themselves are a minority and I, too, as a person with a disability, am a minority. The word minority is not used as a pejorative term at all. I have definitely had some great experiences and have always gone by the maxim: My Kink Is Not Necessarily Your Kink. Just like everything else that I do, the key is to be an advocate for what you want and need.
By contrast, how well is the industry side of the adult world – like sex toy manufacturers and retailers – doing in terms of meeting disabled peoples’ needs? Are current marketing campaigns, product designs, and shopping options inclusive of disabled people or at least willing to assist them when needed?
Dave Bahr: My personal experience has been that the industry has some catching up to do. Inclusion is not what it once was and is expanding. By that I mean that people are begin- ning to understand and acknowledge subsets of inclusion, such as persons with disabilities as people who want and need sexual pleasure just as much as a person without a disability.
This has been a slow process as there still seems to be a stigma that people with disabilities either cannot or do not want to have sexual pleasure. Again, I could write an entire article on this, but I do feel that the industry is starting to shift. As a self-advocate and Usability Consultant, I intend to assist in this shifting as much as I can. It is up to us as persons with disabilities to speak out for what we need, but it is also up to the industry to listen and be willing and able to work with us on making things more inclusive.
Have you experienced any significant events involving the sex toy industry or overall sexual health community that highlighted how we’re still falling short of meeting the needs of disabled people?
Dave Bahr: I cannot speak as a retailer in terms of conventions and the like. Most of my experience has been in the online space and with a few adult stores in my area, which all have had their pros and cons. The most difficult part for me as a blind person is knowing what a toy looks like when I can’t actually hold it in my hand. This is where captions and alternative text to photos placed on a website or a social media feed are imperative. Still, the picture that I paint in my mind of a particular product could be far different from the product itself.
Are there any sex toy brands out there right now that are truly “getting it right” in terms of accommodating disabilities?
Dave Bahr: I would say right now that Hot Octopuss is doing quite well in this space. They are attempting to make toys that conform to people who have mobility and erectile issues as well. They also are making the buttons on their remote tactile which helps me know what button is what.
If you could write a short action list of specific things that sex toy brands can do to improve overall inclusivity and accommodation for disabled people, what would you include? What can we do better, and how?
Dave Bahr: 1. Never be afraid to ask questions. Chances are the customer who has a disability is more than willing to give an answer. Even if you think it is the dumbest question on the planet (and I have been asked some very, very dumb questions which make for great stand-up comedy material), ask it! It takes a lot to offend me and I will definitely tell you if I am offended.
2. If you are in the online retail space or have a website or app of any kind, let a person such as myself test it for usability. I am a Usability Consultant by trade. You might create the most accessible website or mobile app using all guidelines and criteria, but a screen reader user and/or other persons with disabilities need to test it to make sure things work properly. Much as websites are tested and hopefully conform to mobile usage on phones and tablets, not all mobile sites are usable.
3. If you have a physical store, and I enter your store and am curious to look at a product, it would be very nice if you wouldn’t mind opening the box. It is the only way a blind person such as myself can tell what a toy looks like. Otherwise, I just feel a box.
4. Be Open, Be Honest, Be Kind. Try not to fear what you don’t know, embrace it, and learn.