It’s Time to Talk About Disability and How It Impacts Your Period
Welcome to POPSUGAR Uninhibited, a space where anyone with a period can come for advice, recommendations and support. Here, we’ll tackle topics like PMS, sustainability, post-partum periods and bring you first-person experiences in our period diaries. We also want to raise awareness around period poverty, with the aim to ignite change with the help of our launch partner Modibodi and charity partner Share the Dignity. You can find all of the stories here.
Kate Stanforth is a dancer, disability activist, and model who’s based in England. Stanforth’s work in the world of disability rights goes hand in hand with her brand ambassadorship for Australia’s leading leak-proof underwear brand, Modibodi. Menstruation is far from inclusive and Stanforth is working to change this.
“Periods have an even bigger impact on people with disabilities than they do on non-disabled,” Stanforth told POPSUGAR Australia. “I think it’s really important to recognise the barriers people with disabilities are facing in accessing support, products, etc for their periods. It’s also important to include them in the conversation and let their voices be heard.”
There is a long way to go before period products become more accessible for disabled people and we need to see more brands creating adaptive products, just as Modibodi has with its Adaptive Underwear range that makes dealing with your period much less stressful thanks to the easy side openings.
“We need to make periods accessible to all,” said Stanforth. “And in that, combat the barriers that there are around people with disabilities experiencing periods. Tackling period poverty. Tackling accessibility issues — whether it’s the items themselves or going to a shop to buy them.
“Tackling the lack of disabled voices by talking, and supporting people, with periods in ALL settings — work, home, school, etc. We need more disabled role models to be talking about their periods if they feel comfortable doing so, and it would be really good to get disabled models featured in more period ads. There’s a lot that can be done.”
Below, we talk to Stanforth about all things dance, inclusion and how to make the menstruation experience easier for people with disabilities.
POPSUGAR Australia: Can you please tell us about yourself, your dance work, and your activism?
Kate Stanforth: Of course! I’m Kate, a disabled dancer, model, and activist from the UK. I was training to be a professional ballet dancer when unfortunately I became unwell at the age of 14 and never fully recovered. Now, (aged 27) I dance from my wheelchair and run my inclusive dance school, where I teach dancers from all over the world different dance styles. I’m also a very passionate disability activist, focusing mainly on disability rights and inclusion in dance.
PS: How does having a disability impact your period and what would you say your biggest challenges are?
KS: Periods, for me, are stressful. I’ve found a lot of the products on the market aren’t suitable to fit my needs, for example, I react to most sanitary pads. I’ve converted to period pants and, on days I have limited leg movement (I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user who has frequent dislocations), I struggle to get them on and off.
Another issue is that there simply aren’t enough accessible toilets available when I’m out to allow me to change when I’m on my period. And, let’s not forget about the disability price tag and just how expensive having a period can be — we’ve only just got rid of tampon tax here in the UK!
PS: Do you think the current discourse around menstruation is inclusive for people with disabilities?
KS: Periods have an even bigger impact on people with disabilities than they do on non-disabled. I think it’s really important to recognise the barriers people with disabilities are facing in accessing support, products, etc for their periods. It’s also important to include them in the conversation and let their voices be heard. There’s certainly a lot of progress that can be made being more inclusive!
PS: Of course, the conversation around disability and periods requires nuance, as disability takes many forms. Generally speaking, what do you believe is the greatest barriers to adequate period care are for people with disabilities?
KS: Right now, I would say people with disabilities are “just managing” with the period products they have available to them. They’ll be given sanitary pads and when they move around in bed, they’ll leak, be uncomfortable, and are extremely awkward to change. But there’s no other option.
The greatest barrier right now, for people with disabilities, is the feeling that our level of “it’ll do” care involving our periods is enough. And it isn’t. There is an unbelievable amount of period products on the market for your “everyday” person to choose from, yet when you look for those specifically adapted to help those with disabilities, you’ll find very few. Another barrier I want to add is people with disabilities accessing contraception, which is an incredibly difficult experience.
Contraception is sometimes used for period control, as well as its usual job as a regular contraceptive, but the taboo around people with disabilities and sex makes it very difficult to access the correct treatment.
PS: What do you think needs to change — both tangibly and also in the language we use to speak about periods and disability — to overcome challenges faced by people with disabilities and the way they experience periods?
KS: We need to make periods accessible to all. And in that, combat the barriers that there are around people with disabilities experiencing periods. Tackling period poverty. Tackling accessibility issues — whether it’s the items themselves or going to a shop to buy them. Tackling the lack of disabled voices by talking, and supporting people, with periods in ALL settings — work, home, school, etc. We need more disabled role models to be talking about their periods if they feel comfortable doing so, and it would be really good to get disabled models featured in more period ads. There’s a lot that can be done.
PS: Are there particular products you’ve found to be especially good, and can you please explain why?
KS: I am a huge fan of the Modibodi range and, in particular, love their adaptive pants, especially the Luxe. I have a little TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine, which helps with my pain levels. I track my periods, which is useful for noticing any changes and helps me prepare (I use the Clue app). And finally, there’s nothing like a hot water bottle!
PS: Have you tried the Modibodi adaptive boyleg period pants and, if so, what has your experience been with them? I also saw on your Instagram that you’ve recently posted about the Luxe range — do you have a favourite?
KS: I have! I love the Modibodi Adaptive Boyleg Period Pants ($29) because they are so easy to get on and off when I’m having trouble with my hips. Modibodi have just brought out their Luxe range and I love that range even more. The Luxe range still has the adaptable option, but it also has a gorgeous rose gold clasp and such a luxurious feel — definitely my best pants!
You can view the entire Modibodi range of leak-proof underwear at its website.