People with disabilities experience higher rates of violence, abuse and neglect then non-disabled people. In addition to issues relating to their LGBTIQ status, additional barriers exist for people with disabilities accessing family violence services. These circumstances sit alongside unique requirements to meet their needs. For example, if a person with a disability has vital supports withdrawn either as a form of abuse, or supports cease because they had to leave a relationship to stay safe, steps must be taken to find alternative means of providing these (e.g. the DHHS Disability FV Crisis Fund). Furthermore people with disabilities may experience discrimination and stigma within LGBTIQ communities resulting in increased isolation.
People with disabilities can also experience violence from a wider range of perpetrators than their non-disabled counterparts. People who use violence against people with disabilities may include unpaid carers, disability support workers, co-residents, as well as partners and family members.
Perpetrators may target a person’s disability with violence in ways which include but are not limited to:
- Damaging or locking the wheels of the wheelchair or mobility device;
- Neglecting or threatening to not assist a person in and out of bed, shower, or car, or to assault them while performing these tasks;
- Withholding, or over-administering medication;
- Damaging, hiding or not maintaining communication devices;
- Threatening to harm, kill or starve a person’s companion animals;
- Controlling a person’s finances and assets;
- Saying a person with a disability is ‘stupid’ or ‘crazy’ to services and to their friends.
There is very little research into the experiences of LGBTIQ people with disabilities experiences of violence. However drawing on LGBTIQ and disability research we can surmise that: for LGBTIQ people with disabilities coercive abusive and controlling behaviours may include threats to out the person as LGBTIQ, isolating them from their family, chosen family or community, denying access to LGBTIQ services and supports and disability support services. Ableism, like transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia can further be utilised by a perpetrator to control them.
Many services are not accessible or inclusive for people with disabilities, therefore access to recovery supports can be framed by limitations to their resources, low income and inadequate information of their rights or the justice system. While people with disabilities experience higher rates of family violence than non-disabled people, they have less choice and access to support services.
Victim/survivors with a disability may have pre-existing multiple and complex health issues which can be impacted or made worse by intimate partner and or family violence. Medical intervention can be complex and very time consuming due to pre-existing conditions, and at times services may not differentiate between pre-existing and family violence related conditions.
The need for ongoing health supports related to a person’s disability may impact their capacity to attend and/or manage appointments and hinder their recovery from family/intimate partner violence. This requires flexibility and understanding if appointments aren’t met.
An inclusive practice model for victim/survivors with a disability needs to consider a range of factors including the following:
- An intersectional approach needs to be adopted which allows the person to highlight their multiple identities when engaging with services. Services should receive ongoing LGBTIQ training and seek to employ LGBTIQ people and people with disabilities within their organisation so that clients can see themselves reflected in that service.
- A victim/survivor with a disability may rely on the perpetrator and the relationship with them for the provision of many essential needs, and the withdrawal of these may significantly disadvantage them and deny them basic human rights.
- When the perpetrator presents as their carer, it is difficult for the victim/survivor to report violence. This is particularly the case where perpetrators take them to appointments limiting opportunity for victims to speak freely in the perpetrator’s presence. As with any client, it is vital there are opportunities to speak with them away from their partner. If their partner has been facilitating communication in meetings, assess what alternative communication supports can be put in place. Connect them to Auslan Interpreters, Communication Support Workers, communicate in Plain English by having someone in the team with skills in Easy English communication.
- Services may assume informal care is meeting fundamental needs in place of formal services, but is important to be aware that informal care can reinforce unequal power dynamics. Ascertain if support service assessments and subsequent referrals could be beneficial to your client, and explore if these referrals are LGBTIQ responsive and inclusive as well as being accessible.