Public Health Agency of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Questions and Answers: Sexual Health Education for Youth with Physical Disabilities


Table of Contents


Questions & Answers: Sexual Health Education for Youth with Physical Disabilities is intended to address the most commonly asked questions regarding sexual health education for school-aged youth with physical disabilities. The goal of this resource is to assist in the creation of supportive and healthy learning environments for school aged youth with physical disabilities and in providing them with sexual health education.

The Public Health Agency of Canada's (the Agency) Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education GuidelinesFootnote 1, first published in 1994 and most recently revised in 2008, were developed to help professionals working in health promotion and sexual health education programming in their efforts to provide broadly-based sexual health education. Feedback from a national evaluation of the Guidelines indicated the need for companion documents to provide more detailed information, evidence and resources on specific issues in the provision of sexual health education.

In response, the Agency identified a question and answer format as an appropriate way to provide this information to educators and other professionals working with school-aged populations. The questions and answers styled documents are intended to complement each other and cover a range of topics reflecting current issues in sexual health education with school aged populations. They are evidence-based and use inclusive language as reflected in the Guidelines.Footnote 2


The Public Health Agency of Canada would like to acknowledge and thank the many contributors and reviewers who helped create Questions & Answers: Sexual Health Education for Youth with Physical Disabilities. Experts working in the field of sexual health education and promotion across Canada, including the members of the Working Group on Sexual Health, provided valuable input to the development of this document. As well, the Public Health Agency of Canada would like to acknowledge the staff of the Centre for Communicable Diseases and Infection Control for their contribution to this document.


In Canada, every person is equal under the law, without discrimination based on race, nationality or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, intellectual disability or physical disability.Footnote 3

Disability: Disabilities is an umbrella term covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action, while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Thus, disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person's body and features of the society in which he or she lives.Footnote 6

Disabilities vary in severity and can be visible or invisible, medically defined and socially stigmatizing. Each individual experiences them uniquely.Footnote 4 Disability can include a variety of impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions.Footnote 5

The term "physical disability" can refer to a variety of conditions. These can be congenital, acquired, or chronic. Identifying specific types of physical disabilities may offend some individuals who do not consider themselves disabled, although they may have a medically diagnosed physical disability. In addition, the term may exclude people with medical conditions that are not considered a "physical disability" but who do experience limitations as a result. Each disability is experienced uniquely and affects how a person interacts with the world around them. Therefore, this document discusses physical disabilities as a broad category, without identifying or singling out specific physical disabilities.

Physical Disability: A disability characterized by a significant deviation or loss in body function or structure that results in limitations in physical activity.Footnote 7

The purpose of this document is to provide answers to some of the most common questions that professionals may have about providing sexual health education to school-aged youth with physical disabilities. It focuses specifically on physical disability. Other types of disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, are associated with specific concerns and require unique sexual health education strategies. They are better addressed separately from those for youth with physical disabilities.

Intellectual Disability: A disability that includes limitations both in general mental abilities and in adaptive behaviour, which covers many everyday social and practical skills.Footnote 8

The answers provided in this resource are based on current evidence, research and best practices. These questions and answers are designed to support the implementation of the Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education (Guidelines).Footnote 9 The Guidelines are based on the understanding that effective sexual health education is broadly­based and reflects the diverse needs and realities of all people in ways that are age-appropriate, evidence-based, culturally sensitive, respectful and inclusive of youth with physical disabilities. The Guidelines state that inclusive sexual health education, provided to all individuals residing in Canada, is an important component of sexual health promotion.Footnote 10

This resource is intended to help educators (in and out of school settings), school administrators, curriculum and program planners, policy-makers, and health professionals implement the Guidelines to ensure that:

  1. Sexual health education programming is inclusive of the health, safety and educational needs of school-aged youth with physical disabilities;
  2. The experiences of school-aged youth with physical disabilities are included in all facets of broadly-based sexual health education; and
  3. Professionals working with school-aged youth with physical disabilities are provided with a more thorough understanding of the goals and objectives of broadly-based and inclusive sexual health education.