Involve the Right Organizations and People

Who Should Collaborate

Collaborations aimed at addressing abuse of people with disabilities vary in their purpose, partners, and size. At their core, they comprise organizations that serve people with disabilities and those that serve survivors of domestic and/or sexual violence, but many collaborations include other organizations that play a key role in supporting survivors with disabilities. Some of the most common organizations that participate in these collaborations include domestic violence programs, rape crisis centers, independent living centers, Arcs (organizations that advocate for people with disabilities and their families), Goodwill Industries, Deaf social services organizations, community mental health centers, hospitals and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors’ offices.

Involve staff at all levels of the organization to build buy-in.

To change the way an organization delivers services, it must enhance its policies, practices, and responses to individual cases. The voices of everyone involved need to be represented, from the executive director who can endorse changes in policies and procedures and allocate financial resources accordingly, to front-line staff responsible for implementing them. An organization’s representative of the collaboration should solicit the ideas and concerns of staff from all layers of the organization, and keep key staff members informed of the collaboration’s work to ensure its acceptance and support.

Involve people with disabilities.

In keeping with the disability movement’s mantra “Nothing about us without us” and the violence against women movement’s belief that the client is the expert, consider involving people with disabilities in your collaboration. Be thoughtful about the selection of members and support afforded them, otherwise the collaboration runs the risk of tokenizing service recipients by assuming their mere presence at meetings will enrich the work. Instead, give these members an equal voice and honor their expertise in a way that allows them to contribute to the work in meaningful ways. Be prepared to offer additional support to members with disabilities, many of whom may not have had previous experience with this type of work, so they can fully participate. Consider partnering with local self-advocacy groups to identify potential members and to offer leadership development training to support their involvement. Also, ensure collaboration meetings are accessible for people with disabilities.

Identify a skilled leader.

Successful collaborations need people at the helm who have experience coordinating multidisciplinary work. The ideal candidate should be able to communicate, organize, build relationships, manage strong personalities, and embrace multiple work styles. Experience in project management and facilitation, an ability to handle conflict and find common ground, and tact are also valuable skills for a successful leader.

Tips and Resources You Can Use

  • Selecting the right organizations. A few things to consider when thinking about which organizations to involve: The ideal collaboration size is between three to five partners. The substantive focus of your work should parallel the mission and expertise of the agencies around your collaboration table. Every partner agency and representative should be able to affect change in the lives of survivors with disabilities or Deaf survivors. Every partner should be able to contribute to the work of the collaboration in similar and complimentary ways.
  • Agency representatives. Successful collaborations are made up of people who understand their organization’s mission, values, programs, operations, and critical issues; are steeped in their organization’s area of expertise on the collaboration (i.e., domestic/sexual violence, disability, Deaf culture, etc.); can make decisions for the organization and garner buy-in; can commit time, energy, and resources to the collaboration; and are planners and doers.
  • Rural Practice Guidelines: Involving People with Disabilities as Members of Advisory Groups. Created by the Montana Disability and Health Program, this resource provides an overview of disability etiquette, how to recruit people with disabilities as advisory group participants, and tips on how to ensure physical access and access to written and oral information.
  • Checklist for Enhancing the Participation and Input of People with Disabilities. This resource, developed by Independent Living Research Utilization, provides a checklist of things to consider when involving people with disabilities on advisory councils or committees, in focus groups, or when using other methods to incorporate their voices.