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GSSWGraduate School of Social Work

Transgender individuals with a disability experience more discrimination in social services, study finds

January 16, 2017

CSWE Manuscript Award
Rachel Speer (left) and Shanna K. Kattari (right) at the CSWE Annual Program Meeting.

Approximately one fifth of U.S. residents live with a disability, and those with disabilities report higher rates of discrimination in employment, housing, education and other settings than those without a disability. Likewise, people who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming also report higher rates of discrimination in a variety of settings.

Yet, there's been limited research on access to social services and the impact of discrimination among transgender individuals, and none exploring the experiences of people who identify as both transgender and disabled.

To close this knowledge gap, DU Graduate School of Social Work PhD candidate Shanna K. Kattari, Associate Professor N. Eugene Walls, and doctoral student Rachel Speer have studied whether transgender individuals with disabilities experience different levels of discrimination than their nondisabled counterparts when attempting to access social services.

From an examination of the results of the 2010 National Transgender Discrimination Survey of 6,454 transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, the GSSW team concluded that in mental health, domestic violence, rape crisis and drug treatment social-service settings, transgender people with disabilities experience higher rates of anti-transgender discrimination than those without a disability (physical, socioemotional/psychiatric, learning, or multiple types of disabilities).

"We often have discussions about discrimination through a single lens. The goal with this is to help pull apart some of those nuanced pieces," Kattari says.

Implications for Training and Practice
"Even within social-service settings, we must recognize that we don't live single issue, single identity lives," Kattari adds. "To be effective social workers, we can't just look at one single identity. What does it look like to be culturally responsive in all these ways?" 

To ensure that all people have access to respectful and inclusive care, social service professionals must develop increased awareness about intersectional identities, Kattari, Walls and Speer say, and culturally responsive education should be integrated into training before someone begins working in social services.

This project is part of ongoing GSSW research in the area of identity intersectionality and discrimination. Kattari next plans to examine the results of the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey to see what's changed, what hasn't changed, and what trends look like over five years.

Research Garners Awards
The research is documented in a paper (in press, Journal of Social Work in Disability & Rehabilitation ), "Differences in Experiences of Discrimination in Accessing Social Services Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals by (Dis)Ability," which Kattari, Walls and Speer presented at the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Annual Program Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, in November 2016. The paper received the CSWE Council on Disability and Persons with Disabilities Annual Disabilities Manuscript Award, which recognizes scholarship that contributes to knowledge about disability; full participation of persons with disabilities; and social, political, and economic issues related to disability and persons with disabilities.

Also at the CSWE annual meeting, GSSW PhD candidate Jessica Yang received the CSWE Council for Racial, Ethnic, and Cultural Diversity Award for her paper describing how school bonding mediates the relationship between race and risk factors for school-aged youth.

The CSWE Council on the Role and Status of Women in Social Work Education Mentor Recognition Program honored GSSW Associate Professor Ramona Beltrán at the annual meeting as well.

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