Beyond accommodations
: Access to justice for disabled women in the context of domestic violence or abuse

  • Maria Orchard

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Research shows that disabled women are more likely to experience domestic violence than both non-disabled women and disabled men, yet legal support and protection is often inaccessible, unavailable or inappropriate for their specific needs. In order to further our understanding of the legal needs of disabled women in the context of domestic violence or abuse, this research employed methods of narrative inquiry and thematic template analysis to examine the experiences of seven disabled women with their respective legal system and the circumstances that surrounded these interactions. Narrative inquiry was used as the primary method of data collection because it is a form of ‘legal storytelling’ and, in the realm of feminist legal scholarship, brings to light experiences not commonly discussed in public. It surveys the nature of these events in two common law jurisdictions – the United Kingdom and the United States – which provide a unique opportunity to examine variations in policy, law and experiences.

This research aims to identify the barriers and/or facilitators each participant encountered in her quest for justice, focusing on what was necessary for a particular woman to engage with the legal system in the context of domestic violence or abuse, and investigating the role of different ‘legal facilitators’ – that is, reasonable accommodations or adjustments, accessibility obligations, special measures. Such facilitators are crucial to securing equal access to and meaningful participation in the legal system, an essential component of an appropriate response to domestic violence or abuse; however, after collecting and analysing the narratives, it became apparent that ‘access to justice’ in this context is multifaceted: legal facilitators alone are insufficient and there are other complexities at play. Accordingly, a framework comprised of four overlapping components – substantive, procedural, symbolic and participatory – was adapted to frame the narratives of the participants and ensuing themes.
Date of Award6 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorRachel H Murray (Supervisor) & Pauline Heslop (Supervisor)

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