Dr Linda Steele is a socio-legal researcher working at the intersections of disability, law and social justice in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney. She has been researching disability law and social issues for over a decade, having previously been a solicitor with the Intellectual Disability Rights Service. Dr Steele teaches civil court procedure law and mental health and disability law.
Dr Steele undertakes the role of Chief Investigator on The Dementia Redress Project building on her work on the DARF project ‘Safe and Just Futures for People Living with Dementia in Residential Aged Care’ (2018-2019): Investigating how international human rights law might be used to contest segregation of people living with dementia that occurs through the built environment in residential aged care facilities. The project team contributed to policy and law reform discussions around aged care and raised awareness among lawyers, advocates, human rights practitioners and policy makers about segregation and confinement in residential aged care and the importance of overcoming barriers to realising human rights of people living with dementia – including through the 2019 Summit and related anthology on Human Rights for People with Dementia Living in Residential Aged Care and submissions to the Aged Care and Disability Royal Commissions.
Dr Steele's research is focused on understanding law’s complex and contradictory relationship to violence, reflecting on what this means for how we engage with legal methods (such as litigation and law reform) to achieve social justice for disabled people.
She has particular expertise in law’s role in enabling and redressing violence against disabled people, including in the contexts of sterilisation, criminal justice systems, disability residential settings, residential aged care, and segregated disability employment. Her key contribution has been to develop the concept of ‘disability-specific lawful violence’ to understand as legally sanctioned violence a wide variety of non-consensual interventions in the bodies and lives of disabled people which are permitted pursuant to civil mental health, guardianship, forensic mental health, child welfare and parens patriae jurisdictions.
Dr Steele is currently engaged in research contributing to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation of People with Disability. She is collaborating with Women with Disabilities Australia on research on restrictive practices and on sexual and reproductive rights. She is also collaborating with colleagues on two research reports for the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation of People with Disability: one on inclusive and accessible complaints mechanisms, and another on restrictive practices.
Dr Steele’s monograph Disability, Criminal Justice and Law was published by Routledge in 2020. Through theoretical and empirical examination of legal frameworks for court diversion, this book interrogates law’s complicity in the debilitation of disabled people. The book offers new ways to understand relationships between disability, criminal justice and law. It also proposes theoretical and practical strategies that contribute to the development of a wider re-imagining of a more progressive and just socio-legal order.
Dr Steele has been researching the role in redressing institutional violence of place-based memorials and ‘sites of conscience’ of former institutions of “care”. She is exploring this in a project on the views of people with intellectual disability on what the public should know and learn about former disability institutions. This project is in collaboration with the Council for Intellectual Disability and People with Disability Australia and academics in industrial design and disability studies.
In another project, Dr Steele has worked with the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Association, involving women with lived experience of the Parramatta Girls Home, to explore the role of sites of conscience in redressing child institutional abuse through the work of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Memory Project.
Linda teaches civil court procedure law and mental health and disability law. She is passionate about student learning and was recently awarded a 2020 UTS Teaching and Learning citation for 'empowering law students to be agents of disability justice' and the 2021 inaugural Australian Legal Education Award for Excellent in Teaching (Engagement) for ‘transforming students’ understanding of disability and mental health law and empowering them to become agents of disability justice through engaging with communities.