Whatever it takes: Access for women with disabilities to domestic and family violence services

Found in: Resources on violence against women and girls

Whatever it takes: Access for women with disabilities to domestic and family violence services 

In the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children responding to and preventing violence against women with disabilities is a key priority. To date there has been limited organised and funded activity in this area. This new ANROWS research report aims to help tertiary response services to respond effectively to the needs of women with disabilities. It draws on the experiences of women with disabilities who have experienced violence and abuse and have used tertiary response services. 

Women with disabilities who have experienced violence seek help and support from tertiary services for similar reasons that other women do, including family and intimate partner abuse, sexual harassment and assault, coercive control, and stalking. However, women with disabilities also experience abuse related to their disability, including institutional violence and denial of provision of essential care.

The key findings of the research include:

  • Accessibility requires more than physically modified accommodation or providing interpreters for people with sensory impairments. Women with disabilities who participated in the research provided insights drawn from their experiences that suggest a need to extend the definition of “access” to include appropriateness, approachability, and acceptability as core components.
  • By addressing broader issues of access in addition to disability-specific needs (such as the way information is provided to meet broad information access needs), the interface between what services offer and what women with disabilities need can be better aligned.
  • Tertiary response services are not experts in disability and meeting some women’s specific access needs can be challenging. A “clash of cultures” between tertiary response services and other services that support women with disabilities was identified that hampered collaboration.
  • At times, agencies providing services to women with disabilities who have experienced violence tended to act in ways that sought to “protect them” from being traumatised further, which led to less rather than more access to supports and services.
  • Rather than simply referring women with disabilities to disability services for support, a process for DFV services to collaborate and engage with disability services (rather than handing over to them) was developed.

From these findings, the research recommends:

  • Promoting access and accessibility: Services should review their understanding of “disability” and “access” and ensure that they provide services that are  approachable; acceptable and appropriate; and affordable and available.
  • Building cross-sector collaboration: In order to support initiatives for cross-sector collaboration, the emerging models of promising practice      identified in this research should be further developed and informed using a facilitated process of reflection, consultation and engagement with other tertiary response services.
  • Involving women with disabilities: Women with disabilities should be consulted about their experiences using tertiary response services and their advice incorporated into planning and practice development.
  • High-quality data collection: DFV services should collect data on the disability experiences of clients. Qualitative and quantitative data measures across all programs offered in DFV services should be developed and implemented, and tied to the same measurement and reporting metrics for other demographic characteristics (e.g. age, Indigenous status, and so on).

Access the report here