“Whatever it takes”: Access for women with disabilities to domestic and family violence services: final report

Disability Family violence Victims of family violence Australia

This research report that 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 research situates the perspectives of women with disabilities within case study sites and expands on the promising practice within these services through action research with local groups formed from the sites. It has informed the development of recommendations and guidelines for improved access and effective practice.

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.
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