Disability and the Creation of SAFE(R)SPACE

In recent years, there has been a growing international recognition of the disproportionate experience of hostility, violence and hate crime as it is experienced by people with disabilities. However, we know less about how fear and/or experience of hostility affects how people with disabilities navigate their everyday lives and places in the community, or how they engage in strategies to promote safety, and negotiate between feelings of safety and unsafety in different spaces.

The SAFE(R)SPACE study explores how fear and/or experience of hostility impacts on disabled people’s everyday lives and the spaces that they use and move through, as well as how practitioners working in the area of community safety, planning, and disability services understand and respond to issues of hostility and community safety, and how we might promote safe(r) spaces for people with disabilities.

In exploring people with disabilities’ everyday geographies of un/safety, the SAFE(R)SPACE study explores how space and place matter in making sense of people with disabilities’ perceptions and encounters with hostility and un/safety. It draws from geographical thinking that understands space and place as central in making up our identities, and to the experience of impairment.

Project Aims

SAFE(R)SPACE aims to explore how people with disabilities’ everyday lives are shaped by the experience and/or fear of violence, hostility and un/safety, and the ways in which this affects both their perceptions and practices of space and space-making. It has four key objectives:

  • To explore how people with disabilities understand and experience un/safety in the context of violence and hostility in different types of spaces.
  • To explore how national and local socio-political contexts are implicated in disabled people’s experiences, and how policymakers and practitioners charged with implementing safe(r) spaces understand disability and its relationship to the fear and experience of violence/hostility.
  • To draw on people with disabilities’ knowledges to promote policy and practice responses towards experiences of fear and un/safety, and engage key policymakers in the construction of safe(r) space.
  • To explore the usefulness of the concept of safe(r) space in order to contributes to understandings about the relationship between disability, space, and violence and hostility.

Project Design

The project involved 3 phases.

Phase 1 involved reviewing and scoping out the national policy context, through a review of relevant policy documents, legislation, and 20 key actor interviews with national government policymakers and agencies, and national disability organisations.

Phase 2 involved local case study fieldwork (in-depth interviews, mobile interviews and focus groups) in three areas with people with disabilities and practitioners. 104 participants took part in Phase 2 of the study across the three areas. 54 of these were people with disabilities, and participants had a range of different impairments, including visual, mobility and hearing impairments. We also spoke to people with intellectual disabilities, and members of the Deaf community. The remaining 50 participants worked in the case study areas as members of An Garda Síochána, community practitioners or statutory service providers.

Phase 3 brought together policymakers, practitioners and people with disabilities who had participated in Phases 1 and 2 concerned with creating safe(r) space through dissemination and networking events in each of the three case study areas. 

Project duration: 24 months (January 2017-2019).


Irish Research Council ‘Research for Policy and Society Scheme 2016’.

Project Outputs


Edwards, C. & Maxwell, N. (2023) ‘Disability, hostility and everyday geographies of un/safety’, Social & Cultural Geography, 24:1, 157-174, DOI: 10.1080/14649365.2021.1950823  

Edwards, C., & Maxwell, N. (2022). ‘Troubling ambulant research: Disabled people’s socio-spatial encounters with urban un/safety and the politics of mobile methods’. Irish Journal of Sociology, https://doi.org/10.1177/07916035221098601 

Edwards, C. (2021) 'Un/safety as placemaking: disabled people's socio-spatial negotiation of fear of violent crime (FOVC)', in: C. Courage, T. Borrup, M. Rosario Jackson, K. Legge, A. Mckeown, L. Platt and J. Schupbach (eds). The Routledge Handbook of Placemaking. London: Routledge. 

Edwards, C. (2020) ‘Geographies of security and disabled people’s urban lives’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research: Spotlight On. https://www.ijurr.org/spotlight-on/disabling-city/geographies-of-security-and-disabled-peoples-urban-lives/

Edwards, C. (2020) 'The experiences of people with disabilities show we need a new understanding of urban safety', The Conversation, 20 February.

Edwards, C. and Maxwell, N. (2019) Towards Safe(r) Space: Disability and Everyday Spaces of Un/safety and Hostility in Ireland. Cork: University College Cork. To access, please click on the following link: Towards Safe(r) Space

A short, EasyRead version of the report is available here: SAFE(R)SPACE Easyread report

Edwards, C. and Maxwell, N. (2019) Towards Safe(r) Space: Disability and Everyday Spaces of Un/safety and Hostility in Ireland. Report Summary. Cork: University College Cork. To access, please click on the following link: Towards Safe(r) Space (summary report)

Edwards, C. and Maxwell, N. (2019) ‘Why debates about hate crime need to pay attention to disability’, RTE Brainstorm, 5 December 2019, https://www.rte.ie/brainstorm/2019/1205/1097218-why-debates-about-hate-crime-need-to-pay-attention-to-disability/


Conference papers/presentations:

Edwards, C.and Maxwell, N. (2020) 'Garda Responses to People with Disabilities: Everyday Geographies of Safety and Unsafety', [Invited Oral Presentation], National Disability Authority Conference 2020, Dublin, 21 October 2020.

Maxwell, N. and Edwards, C. (2018) Spatial legalities of disablist violence and hostility: exploring the case of hate crime in Ireland, CeDR18 Lancaster Disability Studies Conference, Lancaster University, 11-SEP-18 – 13-SEP-18.

Edwards, C. and Maxwell, N. (2018) Reframing ‘vulnerable’ identities: disabled people negotiating un/safety in the city, New Urban Identities: An International Conference of the ‘Cross-Disciplinary Urban Space’ Network, University of Florence, Italy, 19-JUN-18 – 20-JUN-18.

Edwards, C. and Maxwell, N. (2018) Disability, hostility and the relational geographies of un/safety, Conference of Irish Geographers, Maynooth University, 10-MAY-18 – 12-MAY-18.

Edwards, C. (2018) Disability and relational geographies of un/safety, Sociology Seminar Series, University of Limerick, 11-APR-18.

Edwards, C. (2017) Conceptualising geographies of disability, hostility and (un)safety: re-thinking safe(r) space in Ireland, Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers Annual International Conference, London, 28-AUG-17 – 01-SEP-17.

Edwards, C. (2017) Embodied geographies of (un)safety: disability, hate and the city, Urban Space and the Body, UCC, 9-JUN-17 – 10-JUN-17.

Project Events

The SAFE(R)SPACE project hosted a one-day seminar entitled ‘Re-imagining SAFE(R)SPACE: Disability, hostility and the meaning of community safety’ at the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission on 6 December 2019. Launching the findings of the study and research report, the seminar brought together speakers including disability activists, the Gardai, and community organisations working in the area of disability hate crime. Details of the event can be found here.

Dr Claire Edwards speaking at the launch of the Towards Safe(r) Space Report, December 2019


For more details about the project, or to request the report or summary in an alternative format, please contact the Principal Investigator: Dr. Claire Edwards  claire.edwards@ucc.ie Twitter: @Claire_E_Ed @SAFERSPACE_UCC, or Nicola Maxwell, Project Officer: n.maxwell@ucc.ie.





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