PDAT for workers – in depth

Touching Base Professional Disability Awareness Training (PDAT)

Have you seen a client with a disability? Felt unsure of what to say or do? Wondered about the sexual functioning of someone in a wheelchair? Been unsure or how to handle catheters and other medical apparatus?

Whether you answer yes or no to these questions, the Touching Base Professional Disability Awareness Training series of workshops will add skills to your professional sex worker repertoire.

Over time, sex workers develop their own strategies to handle new clients with any special needs. This training provides the opportunity for sex workers to share their own hands-on experience. You can also gain new information, strategies and techniques – not only from other sex workers, but also from the talented people with disability and service providers who tutor some of the many topics covered by our training workshops.

Sex Workers Privacy Respected
Two of the most important features of this training are that participation is limited to sex workers only and workers can choose to study and receive their Certificates under their working name and/or their personal name. This allows sex workers to progress their professional development and maintain their personal anonymity, which Touching Base acknowledges as being very important to almost all sex workers.

Recommendations for providing professional development courses for sex workers

  • Ensure anonymity/privacy and confidentiality for participants.
  • Use working names during the workshop.
  • Start Time – not early, negotiate appropriate start times.
  • Discreet venue and signage.
  • Certificates for participants to be provided in both personal and working names.
  • Ongoing issue – achieving accreditation of the training into the Australian Qualifications Framework.

Comments from sex worker participants

“Since completing the training I have worked with deaf clients, clients with cerebral palsy, a client with an intellectual disability, a regular client I hadn’t seen him for nearly two years because he had a stroke, a client with a brain injury and a client with a congenital spinal injury.”

“I feel very honored to have been a part of this pilot training course. I cannot state strongly enough how excited I am that this could be a permanent course that sex workers not only from NSW but the rest of Australia and the rest of the world could participate in. It has already positively impacted on the lives of people with disabilities, sex workers, carers, organisations and the general public through discussion around sex and the rights of people with disabilities to be given equal access to the services of sex workers.”

“The training has highlighted the dire need for people with disabilities, parents, carers, people working in the medical field and service providers to engage in discussion and positive action around addressing the sexualities of people with disabilities and encouraging affirmative solutions with these issues. This course is so exciting to be part of and the professionals who have been involved with the training have all respected us as professionals in our chosen careers as sex workers, for which I would like to thank them all.”

When will the next training take place?

Sex workers who would like to attend our next workshop in Sydney are encouraged to send us an email to go on our participant waiting list – via this link training@touchingbase.org. We will be able to notify you directly once the new date has been set.

Brothel Owners and Managers: we can also arrange specific in-house training for your business and adapt workshops to meet your workers training needs in relation to Occupation Health and Safety (OH&S) practices to protect the health and safety of workers and clients on your premises.

Summary of the Pilot Professional Disability Awareness Training for Sex Workers in 2001

By developing the Professional Disability Awareness Training (PDAT) program, the Touching Base Committee pursued two of the key recommendations from our 1st Touching Base Forum in February 2000 – Training and Partnership.

Formation of a Training Subcommittee
The training was auspiced by Family Planning NSW (formerly FPA Health), in partnership with the Sex Workers Outreach Project – SWOP.

Touching Base representatives from Family Planning NSW, SWOP, PWD Australia Inc., The Spastic Centre of NSW, Headway, ParaQuad and peers from the sex industry and disability community all contributed through the training subcommittee to the creation of this ground-breaking training initiative for sex workers.

Content Development
Many of the training needs of sex workers were identified in the results of the 1st Touching Base Forum. Additionally, 3-hour information and introduction sessions were held with sex workers who were interested in participating in the training, where the video Untold Desires was shown to break the ice and the suggested training subject options were reviewed and confirmed.

Once the Modules were finalised, expert guest speakers were invited to present the topics.

Workshop Outline

The workshops were completed over 3 days (21 hrs) at Family Planning NSW Training Rooms, Ashfield, Sydney.

Module One

Definitions of Disability

  • What is a disability?
  • What disabilities are there?
  • How are people affected by disability?

History of People with Disabilities

  • Sexual histories
  • Institutionalisation
  • Sexual assault incidence
  • Medical model vs. social model of disability
  • Empowerment and the disability movement

Values and Attitudes

  • Myths and beliefs: disability and sexuality (asexual, over-sexed, heterosexism, etc)
  • Myths and beliefs about sex workers their work
  • Common experiences

Peer Discussion: How sex workers can breakdown the myths and assumptions?


  • Intellectual disability; brain injury, speech and hearing impairment
  • Augmentative communication; aids for communication; communication boards
  • Sign language
  • Body language
  • 3rd party involvement and their role in communication
Module Two

Medical Aspects

  • Catheters, colostomy bags, spasms
  • Neurological aspects (tactile/sensitivity)
  • Skin diseases, communicable and non-communicable
  • Sexual functioning for people with a spinal injury


  • What may be a persons sexual and support needs?
  • Appointment checklist
  • Physical access
  • Creating a safe environment
  • Building rapport
  • Responding to disclosures of sexual abuse

Occupational Health and Safety

  • Lifting, transferring and communication
  • Work cover training and demonstrations
  • Basic back care principles
  • Undressing/dressing
  • The role of parents and carers in the lives of people with disabilities.
Module Three

Legal issues

  • Consent
  • Duty of Care
  • Consent and people who do not communicate with speech

Psychological Health and Safety for Workers

  • Building alliances
  • Debriefing and support
  • Being creative and having fun

Evaluation of Training
The feedback from participants has been extremely positive for the process, impact and outcomes of the training.

Improvements Identified & Comments

  • A longer course that provides deeper knowledge in some areas
  • Practice for new skills (lifting)
  • More printed material to hand out to support learning
  • Expert knowledge provided by guest speakers valuable
  • Facilitators and speakers fostered an open, nurturing and supportive environment