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Information for Supporters and Services

All women and girls with disability have a right to make their own decisions about their bodies, relationships and sexual health.

Friends, family members, support people and services have a responsibility to learn how they can best support the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls with disability.

Watch WWDA's video about women with disability's sexual and reproductive rights:

The situation

While women and girls with disability have the same sexual and reproductive rights as women without disability, the reality is that their rights are often not supported. In Australia:

  • women with disability are often assumed to be asexual and denied the freedom to be in romantic relationships and have sexual experiences
  • women with disability experience high rates of forced contraception, sterilisation and abortion [1]
  • women with intellectual and learning disabilities have their children removed approximately 15-50 times more often than women without disability [2]
  • women with disability are almost twice as likely as men with disability to experience sexual harassment (57% compared to 28%) [3]
  • only around 15% of women with intellectual disability have a regular cervical screen compared to over 70% of women in the general population. [4]
Tip: For more information and statistics on violence against women with disability, download the WWDA Position Statement 4: Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

Women with disability and sex

Photo of a woman wearing dark sunglasses and holding a cane.

Whether you are a family member, friend or support person, it is important to recognise that women with disability have sexual desires just like everyone else. They have a right to have consensual sexual experiences.

Women with disability should never be denied the ability to make their own choices about their relationships or sexual health. Supporters and service organisations can support women with disability to make healthy choices by offering information that is reliable and accessible.

There are lots of resources at the bottom of this page which may be helpful.


Sterilisation and children

While everyone has the right to make decisions about their body, forced contraception and sterilisation of women and girls with disability is a practice that unfortunately remains common in Australia.

Women with disability have the same rights as everyone else to have children and get the support they need to be parents.

It is not OK to force sterilisation upon anyone, regardless of their disability. Forced sterilisation has been identified as an act of violence, a form of social control and a form of torture by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Torture, and as a form of violence by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). For many years now, the United Nations has told Australian governments that Australia should have a national law that prevents women and girls with disability from being forcibly sterilised.

Services and supports

Sex workers and therapists

People with disability have the same rights to access sex therapy and sex work services as everyone else. For many people with disability, accessing sex work services can be the only way to access and enjoy sexual pleasure and can be an important form of therapy.

Note: Sex work is illegal in some states in Australia.

Did you know?

Touching Base
is an organisation that links people with disability with trained disability sex workers in Australia. Learn more on the Touching Base website (external link).


The NDIS and sex

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) currently only supports access to sex therapy but not sex work. Women with disability who are NDIS participants and need support to have sex should talk to the NDIS about whether it can be supported.

Accessible services

If you provide sexual health information or services, it is important to ensure they are accessible for people with disability. Some things you can do include:

  • use the national Disability Standards (external link) to conduct an accessibility audit of your service and develop a code of conduct for staff that is inclusive of women with disability
  • make sure that any information you provide is offered in a variety of formats, such as audio, video, print, digital and Easy Read formats
  • make sure that staff are trained in providing sexual and reproductive health services to people with disability. Find training courses on the family planning website for your state or territory (external link)
  • have information readily accessible for all staff about accessible violence response services that you can refer to, such as 1800RESPECT and use the 1800 RESPECT: Disability Support Toolkit (external link)
  • download and read the resources provided below.

Footnotes

[1] Women With Disabilities Australia (2016) Position Statement 4: Sexual and Reproductive Rights
[2] Intellectual Disability and Health (2019) Parents with Intellectual Disability (external link).
[3] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2019) People with Disability in Australia: Sexual Harassment (external link).
[4] State Government Victoria (2011) Pap tests and Victorian Women with Intellectual Disability (external link).

Important Resources

Publications
WWDA Position Statement 4: Sexual and Reproductive Rights
Information from WWDA about the rights of women and girls with disability to make decisions about their bodies, sexual health and relationships.
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1800RESPECT: Disability Support Toolkit
The 1800RESPECT Disability Support Toolkit has resources for front line workers supporting people with disability who have been impacted by violence and abuse.
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Centre for Applied Disability Research: Research to Action Guides
A Research to Action Guide to help people providing support to people with disability to give the best possible care, supported by science.
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Centre for Applied Disability Research: Disability Knowledge Clearing House
This website exists to help supporters of people with disability to understand what works, for whom, under what circumstances, and at what cost.
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Women with Disabilities ACT: Contraception, Consent, Respectful Relationships & Sexuality
A report that looks at frameworks across the world for guardianship, decision making, consent, contraception and sexual health education.
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Contraception Australia: Resources for Healthcare Professionals
This website has resources that professionals can use to educate patients and community members about safer sex and contraception.
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Checklist
Our Site Accessibility Checklist: Written Information
A checklist to help individuals and organisations make sure that any public information they provide is accessible.
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Family Planning Tasmania: Professional Learning and Training
Family Planning Tasmania offers sexual and reproductive health professional learning programs across Tasmania.
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Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT: Education and Training
Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT offers a range of professional training courses and workshops for professionals and service providers.
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Family Planning Welfare Association NT: Training Courses and Education
FPWNT is a registered training organisation that offers a range of accredited training courses across the NT
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Family Planning Victoria: Professional Learning
A range of certificate and non-certificate courses for sexual health providers and services working with people with disability.
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True: Education
True is Queensland's main provider of sexual health and reproductive services. This website provides a range of online and in-person courses for educators and service providers.
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Sexual Health Quarters WA: Courses
SHQ (Sexual Health Quarters) offers a wide range of education and training opportunities in sexual and reproductive health.
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Family Planning NSW: Education and Training
Family Planning NSW offers reproductive and sexual health education courses for clinicians, disability workers, youth workers, school teachers, other health workers and other service providers.
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Shine SA: Education and Training
Shine South Australia (SA) offers a range of educational courses in sexual and reproductive health for professionals and services.
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Guides
Women With Disabilities Victoria: Our Right to Safety and Respect
A guide for people that support women with disability who have experienced, or are at risk of, violence and abuse. The guide is available in PDF, Word, Auslan, Audio and Braille formats.
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Guidelines for Providing Rights-Based Services to Address Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Health and Rights for Women and Young Persons with Disabilities
A guide about providing rights based services to address gender-based violence and the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and young persons with disabilities.
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Family Planning Alliance Australia: services
A website where you can find your local family planning service.
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WWILD: Resources
Publications and resources to assist family, carers and services to support women with intellectual and learning disabilities who are affected by sexual assault and violence.
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Where to next:

External website
Children by Choice: Abortion
A website with information and statistics about abortions in Australia.
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Australian Commission for Quality and Safety in Healthcare
The website for the Commission that works with patients, carers, healthcare organisations and governments to set standards for healthcare and improve the safety and quality of care in Australia.
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My Time: Supporting Parents of Children with Disabilities
A website providing free support and resources for parents of children with disabilities.
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Carers Australia
The website for the national organisation for carers in Australia.
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Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
A website with information and statistics about health and welfare in Australia.
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Videos
Forgotten: Reproductive Health in Women with Disabilities
A TED talk about the need to support the reproductive health of women with disability.
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Videos
GasLit
An educational film about a woman with disability who has to fight to hold on to her identity in the face of the world’s assumptions, and strives for independence from her parents, who doubt her ability to become a mother.
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Sexual Lives and Respectful Relationships
Sexual Lives: Respectful Relationships is a program for people with intellectual disability that focuses on talking and learning about sexuality and relationship rights, sexual health, and violence and abuse prevention.
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Sex Love and Disability: Ben Duffy’s documentary
A short documentary about navigating sex and relationships with disability.
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Australian Women's Health Network
A health promotion advocacy organisation website that provides information about women's health as well as links to local women's health centres.
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Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA)
WWDA website where you can find a range of government submissions, reports and publications about women and girls with disability.
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National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
Information about the NDIS for eligible people with disability as well as their supporters and services.
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SECCA: Disability, Relationships, Sexuality
A non-profit organisation designed to support people with disabilities in their efforts to learn about human relationships, sexuality and sexual health.
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Videos
Willing and Able: Love Sex and Disability DVD
An educational video that examines the issue of sexuality and sexual relationships for people with physical disabilities, primarily through interviews.
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The Path to Equality for Women and Young Persons With Disabilities
An online resource for disability advocates, as well as service providers, policy makers and academics about supporting the safety and sexual health of young people with disability.
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Safe Choices: Speak Up! About Family Violence
An online practical training guide to assist frontline workers who work with or support women with disabilities to recognise domestic and family violence.
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SOSafe
A website with tools to promote social safety for people with intellectual disability
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WWILD
WWILD supports people with intellectual or learning disabilities who have experienced sexual abuse or have been victims of crime. WWILD also works with the families, carers and services who support them.
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The Royal Women's Hospital
A website with lots of useful information and downloadable fact sheets about women's health.
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Videos
Walk In Our Shoes
A snippet from a documentary that explores the issue of sterilisation of people with disability
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Violence against Women with Intellectual Disability: A Quest for Specific Sexual Violence Prevention Education in Tandem
An article discussing sexual violence against women with intellectual disability, including suggestions for specific prevention strategies and training.
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Women with Disabilities ACT
A website where you can find submissions, publications and other resources regarding the experiences of women with disability in the ACT.
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Women With Disabilities Victoria
A website where you can find a range of resources to support women with disability, particularly those in Victoria.
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United Nations Population Fund
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency. Its website has information about supporting the sexual and reproductive health rights of people around the world.
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