Johanna Knebel


I am a first year PhD student in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds.

I graduated with a first-class degree (MA) in special education from the University of Erfurt, Germany in 2020. During my studies at the University of Erfurt I first developed my research interests in lifelong learning, sexuality education, people with learning difficulties, and disability studies.

I was determined to further pursue my growing interest in disability studies. That is why, in 2021, I came to the University of Leeds to study my MA in Disability Studies supported by a scholarship of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Leeds Excellence Scholarship for international students. During my postgraduate studies I increasingly began to question the underlying assumptions of and practices in sexuality education for people with learning difficulties in Germany. This has resulted in my (doctoral) research interest in peer-led sexuality education for and by people with learning difficulties. My MA dissertation was titled “Peer counselling as a means to challenge ableism in sexuality education for and by people with learning difficulties? – Perspectives from non-disabled counsellors in Germany”. I graduated with a first-class degree in Disability Studies from the University of Leeds in 2022.

To carry out my doctoral research at the University of Leeds, I successfully secured the 1+3 WRDTP (White Rose Doctoral Training Partnership) scholarship funded by the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council). As part of the programme, I undertook another MA in Social Research at the University of Leeds in 2022/23. For my dissertation, I investigated adult protection policies of residential care homes for people with learning difficulties in Germany regarding deinstitutionalisation and sexual violence (“To protect or to preserve? - A critical discourse analysis of violence protection policies of organisations providing residential care for people with learning difficulties in Germany ”). 

Alongside my studies in Germany, I worked for a welfare organisation providing (residential) care services to disabled people and their families. I now work for a German non-governmental association which supports inclusion, self-determination, and independent living of disabled people. This reflects my personal and professional development which now strongly aligns with the social model of disability.

I am currently one of the representatives of the postgraduate researchers in the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds.

Research interests

My doctoral research investigates the involvement of adults with learning difficulties as peer experts in sexuality education in Germany with the aim to strengthen the evidence base for sexuality education for and by people with learning difficulties. My objective is to explore whether and how practice can align with disabled people’s right to (participation in) sexuality education (United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities art. 23 – right to marriage, parenthood, family, and relationships and art. 24 – right to inclusive education).

Sexuality education is predominantly facilitated by non-disabled for people with learning difficulties. People with learning difficulties are commonly not involved in the development and delivery of sexuality education due to being perceived as cognitively and sexually incapable of embodying sexuality due to their impairment. Peer (counselling) approaches position people with learning difficulties as experts in their own interests according to the leitmotif of the Independent Living Movement “Nothing about us, without us”.

On the one hand, I aim to contribute to the improvement of the practice of sexuality education for people with learning difficulties in shaping its development and delivery in an inclusive and non-discriminatory way across the whole life span. People with learning difficulties are still one of the most discriminated against and disadvantaged groups regarding their sexual and reproductive rights as well as their sexual self-determination. On the other hand, I aim to challenge ableist assumptions about sexuality, lifelong learning, and people with learning difficulties more broadly.

Further research interests

  • Disability Studies
  • Gender Studies
  • Sexuality (education)
  • Inclusive education
  • Lifelong learning
  • Adult education
  • Deinstitutionalisation
  • Eugenics / Newgenics


  • MA Social Research, University of Leeds
  • MA Disability Studies, University of Leeds
  • MA Special Education, University of Erfurt

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for Disability Studies