The aims of this study were to investigate the lived experiences of people with complex communication needs in developing romantic and sexual relationships, and identify and explore barriers and facilitators they encountered in pursuing these relationships. For the study, nine participants were interviewed. All were at least 21-years-old, used augmentative and alternative communication, and had physical and communication disabilities since childhood. A methodology employing critical hermeneutics, a form of interpretive phenomenology, and Feminist Standpoint Theory was utilized. The World Health Organization (WHO) International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) model (2013) was used to develop questions for the semi-structured interviews. Interview data were analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis, with the ICF model and the concept of ableism used to identify four main themes: (a) Attitudes of others (ableism), (b) Communication Within Intimate Moments, (c) Assistance of Support Workers, and (d) Additional Education Related to Sexuality and Disability. Most of the barriers participants encountered related to ableist attitudes they experienced from others. Facilitators included creative communication strategies for intimate moments and using dating websites. The participants’ experiences bring attention to the need for changes in policies, practice, and research to further support people with complex communication needs in their quest to develop intimate relationships.
- Adult relationships
- augmentative and alternative communication
- complex communication needs
- disability and sexuality
- sex education