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These Volunteers Give Handjobs to the Severely Disabled

The Taiwanese NGO Hand Angel aims to raise awareness of the fact that disabled people are often depicted as completely desexualised, despite the fact they have exactly the same desires as anyone else.

Hand Angels helping Andy from his wheelchair into bed (Photos courtesy of Hand Angel)

Andy is a man with muscular dystrophy who lives with his parents in southern Taiwan. Due to his severe physical disability, he had to be home-schooled and couldn't leave his house alone, so never really had the opportunity to develop either an active social life or a romantic relationship.

When the Taiwanese NGO Hand Angel – an organisation promoting the sexual rights of disabled people – first spoke to Andy, they realised this situation meant he'd also never been able to have a frank conversation with anyone about his sexuality. And as a young gay man who didn't want to speak to his parents about his feelings, this wasn't exactly the healthiest situation to be in.

So, over the course of a few months, representatives from the NGO counselled Andy online, helping him to understand his own sexuality and place in the world. Next, they "smuggled" him out of his house and took him to a motel for a hand job.

Taiwan – officially known as the Republic of China – has one of the best health systems in the world; its million or so disabled citizens receive some of the most thorough medical attention you'll find, including everything from long-term care to traditional herbal medicine. What they don't receive from this system, however, is any kind of aid when it comes to slightly more intimate issues, namely: orgasms.

It was for this reason that a group of social campaigners and volunteers took it upon themselves to create Hand Angel, an NGO whose main service is giving hand jobs to the severely disabled. Members say that their work raises awareness of the fact that disabled people are often depicted as desexualised – as well as having their sexuality constantly neglected – despite the fact they share exactly the same desires as anybody else.

In the Netherlands, the national health system provides a grant scheme for people with disabilities to receive public money to pay for sexual services up to 12 times a year. In Taiwan, sex remains a taboo, and some Buddhists – the sovereign state's primary religion – believe that someone suffering from a disability means they're paying for bad deeds in a past life. So not the best mix for those like Andy, really.

"I can't tell my parents that I also have sexual desires, and I can't come out of the closet in front them," he told me. "My family's care puts lots of pressure [on me] and sabotages me from normal romantic relations."

Vincent, the 50-year-old founder of Hand Angel, lost his legs to polio and says his disability allows him to better emphasise with applicants' needs, without any of the patronisation disabled people can sometimes face. He emphasised that "disabled people share the same physical and emotional needs as any others, and therefore should have the right to pursue them".

In order to decide who's entitled to use their services, Hand Angel first assess an applicant's level of disability. The person has to be recognised by the government as having a serious physical impairment, but can't be mentally disabled. Once they're cleared, the service is totally free, but each applicant can only receive three bouts of sexual stimulation.

Volunteers come from varied backgrounds; some are gay, some are straight, some are disabled, some are PhD students, some are social campaigners and some work in the media. It's made very clear to me that the three volunteers actually giving the hand jobs only use their hands for second-base kind of stuff – that hugging, caressing and kissing on the face are all fine, but anything penetrative (fingering, oral sex, vaginal sex and anal sex) is not.

The hands of Hand Angel volunteers

When Hand Angel took Andy to the motel, the volunteer caressed him thoroughly and gave him a hand job. He described the intimacy being so intense that, for a minute, he believed he was in love. He knew it was only temporary, of course, but the experience provided him with an emotional connection he'd never felt before.

This is part of Hand Angel's mission: not just providing a sexual service, but also bringing forth an emotional and social transformation in applicants.

"[Andy] was very introverted before, and didn't really know how to interact with people," said Vincent. "However, through months of talking online, I discovered something changed inside him. When our group was reported by the media and got lots of criticism, I saw Andy joined the public debate and argued with those [critical] internet users, trying to illustrate his opinions."

In Taiwan, where a discussion of sexuality is restrained by strict moral codes, there was also plenty of mockery levelled at Hand Angel. Internet users starting posting comments like: "Do they also offer 'Mouth Angels'?"; "I'm retarded; can I apply for Hand Angel service, too?"; and "Only three times in a lifetime?"

There even appeared to be negativity on an official level. The executive secretary of the Taipei United Social Wealth Alliance, Yi-Ting Hu, commented on the NGO, saying: "Speaking from personal opinion, I don't think we need to bring up disabled people's sexuality as an independent issue. There are more important and urgent problems we need to deal with. Don't you think if you advocate their sexual rights, it is like another form of discrimination?"

Of course, he seemed to only be proving Hand Angel's point; to suggest that advocating a disabled person's sexual rights is a form of discrimination is, first, patronising in itself, and secondly, just completely bizarre – how is consensually receiving a hand job in any way discriminatory?

Andy summed it up: "I didn't feel I was the target of pity. The whole process was full of respect and equality. This might be deemed as controversial by society, but as long as you're willing to look into it, what we desire is no different from others. Just ask yourself: do you need to consult your parents before having sex?"

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