An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of the experiences of fairness amongst adults with learning disabilities when engaging with services responding to domestic violence and abuse.

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Women with learning disabilities experience a range of disadvantages across the life course including; social isolation and marginalisation, increased risk of experiencing severe, frequent, and repeated incidents of domestic violence and abuse (DVA), the normalisation of violence and abuse throughout the life course, inquiries into their abilities as mothers, and barriers to accessing effective support services. These experiences impact upon their conceptualisations and experiences of fairness and unfairness.
Seven participants were recruited via two services that specifically support people with learning disabilities who have experienced DVA. Each participant took part in a semi structured interview which explored their understandings and experiences of fairness and unfairness in relation to their engagement with support services responding to DVA. Within the context of this research DVA services are defined as any public or private service a person is engaged with in response to experiencing DVA, including but not limited to, the police, adult social services, children’s social services, DVA programs, mental health practitioners, housing officers, and community groups etc.
Interpretative phenomenological analysis revealed the complexity of their experiences, with participants reporting what it means to be treated fairly and unfairly when engaging with DVA services, the importance of relationships in making sense of fairness and unfairness, the lack of accessible preventative services, the impact of ableist attitudes on their engagement with DVA services, institutional barriers to accessing DVA services, and the adverse consequences of unfair experiences of interventions from DVA services.
To examine the relationship between fairness and unfairness, people with learning disabilities, and DVA services, it was important to explore how fairness and unfairness can be defined and experienced. This thesis presents an experiential definition of fairness and unfairness rooted in the narratives of the participants. Their definitions posit fairness as treating everybody with the same dignity, respect, and common humanity whilst ensuring that the aid required to make choices, undertake day to day tasks, and pursue goals and ambitions is provided without discrimination. Their definition of unfairness was conceptualised as discriminatory treatment within relationships of unequal power which operate to maintain the unequal structure of aid. Unfairness can be experienced as vivid emotional responses to discrimination linked to the unequal structure of aid, this is often linked to experiences of discrimination throughout the life course. The thesis culminates in the development of Fairness Informed Practice (FIP). Drawing upon relationship-based approaches, trauma informed care, anti-discriminatory practice, and reflexive practice, FIP seeks to offer a practice framework, developed through the interpretation of the participants narratives, that seeks fair and equitable access and outcomes from DVA services. The thesis advocates for an increased awareness of DVA and people with learning disabilities and the adoption of Fairness Informed Practice within DVA interventions with people with learning disabilities.
Date of Award18 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorNadia Aghtaie (Supervisor) & Beth Tarleton (Supervisor)


  • Fairness
  • Unfairness
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Domestic violence and abuse
  • Fairness Informed Practice

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