Join the fight to end violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability by engaging with the Disability Royal Commission.

Quick Escape

Women, girls, and LGBTIQA+ people with disability

Public hearing 17 of the Royal Commission is the first to focus on the experience of women and girls with disability, with a particular focus on family, domestic and sexual violence.

Part one was a two day online hearing on 13 and 14 October 2021, focusing on experts and organisations. Part two, from March 28 to April 1 2022, heard directly from women and girls with disability about their personal experiences.

Find out more and read transcripts and submissions from hearing 17 at the Royal Commission’s website. You can also read a summary of part one in this ABC article, and more about part two from Women With Disabilities Victoria and Women With Disabilities Australia.

You can read our tweets in the threads below – please note that you may need to click “show replies” at the bottom of the page in order to load the full thread:

17.1: Day one, day two.

17.2: Monday threads one, two and three. Tuesday threads one, two and three. Wednesday threads one, two. Thursday threads one, two. Friday thread.

On 14 October 2021, Commissioners also heard about the experiences of people with disability who identify as being members of the lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse, intersex, queer, asexual and questioning (L(G)BTIQA+) community. This session was closed to the public and not broadcast to protect the privacy of the witnesses, but you can read about some of the intersectional issues that can affect this part of the disabled community in our latest Our Voice blog: My queer, disabled body and the struggle for safety in healthcare.

We also heard some evidence about sexual violence and sexuality-related disability supports during Hearing 20, which examined two case studies involving group homes run by Life Without Barriers. One group home resident, a woman speaking under the pseudonym ‘Sophie’, told the Royal Commission about her struggle to get support with sex education and safety while dating, as well as the inappropriate responses of Life Without Barriers staff after Sophie was sexually assaulted on a date. You can find transcripts and other documents on the Royal Commission’s website.

Check out our live Twitter commentary on hearing 20 here: TuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridayMonday and the second Tuesday.

See also our friends and colleagues at Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA), which represents and advocates for women, girls, feminine identifying and non-binary people with disability across Australia.

Where we stand

Domestic and Family Violence

PWDA has done quite a bit of work in the domestic and family violence (DFV) sector, which has often been unhospitable or downright inaccessible for many people with disability.

Women with disability are approximately 40% more likely to experience DFV, an alarming statistic when considered in the context of Australia’s DFV epidemic. Many women find it harder to escape violence because DFV services are inaccessible for women with disability.

DFV services include but are not limited to:

  • Women’s health centres
  • Counselling services
  • Accommodation and homelessness services
  • Family support services
  • Legal services
  • Women’s resource centres
  • Organisations tackling these issues on a sector-wide systemic level.

Women with disability may experience barriers to accessing services, including:

  • Physical barriers that mean they can’t access services
  • Information about the services may be inaccessible
  • The staff who work at the services may not feel confident supporting women with disability
  • Policies or practices in these services might exclude women with disability.

Our ongoing Building Access Project aims to increase the accessibility of DFV services for women with disability in NSW. We work together with Domestic Violence NSW and Women’s Community Shelters to do access reviews and provide accessibility advice, disability awareness and NDIS training, and help getting funding to improve accessibility. At the bottom of the page linked above, you can find recently updated resources we produced for the project, including more detailed information about barriers to access in DFV services.

We also ran a Healthy Relationships training project in 2019, a peer education program about healthy relationships, including domestic and family violence, and sexual assault awareness for women with intellectual and learning disability. Our peer educators were all women with intellectual disability who brought their skills, expertise and knowledge about healthy relationships to their peers.

Sexuality, gender diversity, and intersex conditions

At least one in three people in the LGBTIQA+ community are disabled (more than the general population).

Historically and recently, people with disability have been denied full autonomy over our own bodies, subjected to societal beliefs that we are either asexual or hypersexual, told that our disability somehow invalidates our gender identity, and subjected to homophobic and transphobic violence and abuse.

Treating our gender and sexuality as taboo and inappropriate can leave people with disability without the resources other people have for understanding and expressing their identity. PWDA worked with Touching Base Inc. on a position statement asking the NDIA to develop a comprehensive sexuality policy to allow for all levels of sexual education and support to be provided, according to our individual needs and goals.

There is significant crossover between parts of the disability community and the intersex community. For more on intersex issues, see Intersex Australia and Intersex Peer Support Australia.

There is also some specific correlation between neurodiversity and gender diversity, or at least the expression of it. Additionally, people with disability can be more likely to be viewed as “gender non-conforming” (and subjected to transphobic and homophobic violence) regardless of their personal identity, due to people’s assumptions about what a gendered body looks like and how much “gender conforming” activity is not accessible to many of us.

This can also present an additional barrier to accessing DFV services, which may be set up to support a narrow definition of womanhood and wind up excluding women and non-binary people with disability who don’t fit their expectations (including trans and cis people, and intersex women in either category). The same applies to gendered healthcare services – on top of the accessibility issues both systems present to all people with disability. LGBTIQ people and people with disability separately experience many breaches of our reproductive rights, and when we belong to both communities, this is even more likely.

Find out more