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Acting local: improving community life

In this video, Denise Beckwith introduces Touching Base, an organisation which advocates and supports sexual expression for people with disabilities.

In the last step, we touched on the importance of advocates supporting one another and working together to improve individual lives and communities. In this step, we look at Touching Base, an organisation that attempts to form connections between two marginalised communities — people with disabilities and sex workers — to enable access and decrease discrimination in New South Wales, Australia.

As advocate Denise Beckwith explains in the above video, Touching Base engages in individual advocacy, and it also works for systemic change in the local community by providing training, education, and awareness-raising programs. You can see how Denise in her advocacy role has had to navigate the local legal system, take a hard line with local businesses, provide clear and accurate information to clients and their families, and work to dispel myths about disability and sexuality in the community.

In 2011, the documentary Scarlet Road, about Touching Base co-founder Rachel Wotton and a number of her clients, was released. The documentary attempts to subvert popular presumptions about both sex work and disability (Rozengarten & Brook, 2016). But interestingly, as Rozengarten and Brook (2016) point out, “Scarlet Road” does not tell the whole story about sexuality and disability. Despite its best intentions, the documentary tells stories about people with disabilities being unable to enter non-commercial sexual relationships because of their impairments (rather than because of stigma). It also risks holding Rachel Wotton up as a charitable figure. Rozengarten and Brook (2016) make a plea for “no pity,” which echoes Denise’s views as well as advocacy work within the Disability Rights Movement over the last fifty years.


Rozengarten, T & Brook, H. (2016) “No Pity Fucks Please: A critique of Scarlet Road’s campaign to improve disabled people’s access to paid sex services.” Outskirts, Vol. 34, p. 1-21.

Talking points

  • According to Denise in the video, what is some of the core advocacy work that Touching Base is involved in?
  • Denise describes advocacy as a process of “going step-by-step and taking people on a journey.” Is this a useful description for you?
  • What advocacy skills do you think are needed when working for change at the community level?

In the next step, we look at different ways of working with, and influencing, local governments.

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Disability and a Good Life: Working with Disability

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