People with disabilities often are treated as second-class individuals. This unequal status contributes to the violence committed against people with disabilities. Promoting equality requires action, and must be at the forefront of everyone’s work to end abuse.
Strategies to Promote Equality in Your Work
Engage Self-Advocates in Your Local Community
It is essential that any effort to end abuse involves the very people that are most affected by it — people with disabilities. Self-advocates, people with disabilities speaking out about the issues that directly affect them, must be key stakeholders of every effort to end abuse. To fully engage self-advocates, reach out to individuals and self-advocacy organizations and invite them to work with you to end abuse. Ask questions and listen to what self-advocates have to say. Involve people with disabilities in all aspects of your work.
Ensure Engagement Efforts are Accessible
Fully engaging people with disabilities entails making sure that self-advocates can fully participate. This requires that attention be paid to accessibility. If self-advocates are Deaf, for example, make sure that qualified American Sign Language interpreters are made available for every meeting, event, or interaction to ensure effective communication for everyone involved. Find out what a self-advocate might need to fully participate in the effort (i.e., a meeting location that is accessible by mass transit, a modified meeting process so that more time is allotted for processing information, or a printed document that has been revised to include language that can be understood by everyone).
Identify Access Barriers
Identify barriers that impact access to services and support for victims and survivors with disabilities. Engage self-advocates to join you in learning about what barriers exist and taking concrete steps to eliminate those barriers. Identifying access barriers affects all parts of an organization. Here are some examples: Is the building accessible (i.e., can everyone get to the building and get inside)? Are all of the documents accessible to someone with low vision (i.e., large print versions)? Can everyone access the website content (i.e., screen reader compatible)? What about programming, policies, and the practices that guide victim services (i.e., do they exclude, hinder inclusion, or maintain the separation and isolation of people with disabilities)?
Reflect Inclusion, Equality, and Self-Determination in Policy and Practice
The broader movement to end violence against women must recognize and embrace its central role in promoting the equality of people with disabilities. The actions, policies, and practices of domestic violence, sexual assault, and allied stakeholder organizations need to reflect the inclusion, equality, and self-determination of people with disabilities. Active engagement with people with disabilities and their allied stakeholders prevents the unintended consequences that result from policies and practices that fail to account for people with disabilities. Think about the impact of a public policy that defines “consent” as involving specific words or actions made in the course of sexual contact, which may be physically difficult or impossible for a sexual assault victim who has quadriplegia. Would this victim be able to indicate lack of consent, as defined by the law, and secure criminal justice for the sexual assault? Similarly, some laws and policies define “vulnerable adult” as anyone with physical or cognitive disabilities and do not take into consideration the person’s expressed choices, capacity, or abilities.
Join Forces with the Disability Community
Policymakers and practitioners cannot end abuse on their own. Join forces with disability organizations throughout your communities. Contact and connect with the groups, organizations, and movements that go beyond your typical network. Support larger efforts to reduce disparities and inequality. For example, join the disability community’s efforts to promote the dignity of employment of people with disabilities. Show up and speak out at public events hosted by disability organizations. Be open to opportunities to collaborate on issues, and encourage staff to connect with disability organization staff to exchange ideas, learn about one another’s focus, and identify ways to collaborate. Joining forces increases the number and volume of voices working together to end abuse of people with disabilities.
Resources You Can Use
- Engaging Self-Advocates. There are a variety of trainings on engaging self-advocates. You can access many of those trainings here, or better yet, contact a self-advocate in your area!
- Create an Inclusive Movement. Access additional information on creating accessible events, trainings, and resources in this section of the End Abuse of People with Disabilities website.
- Self Advocates Becoming Empowered. The leading self-advocacy organization in the U.S., SABE works for the full inclusion of people with developmental disabilities. Learn about upcoming events, read the Self Advocacy Nation newsletter, and access resources and training materials on SABE’s website.
- National Disability Rights Network. NDRN works to improve the lives of people with disabilities by guarding against abuse, advocating for basic rights, and ensuring accountability in various systems. Locate protection and advocacy services in your state, and learn about issues impacting people with disabilities on this site.
- National Council of Independent Living Centers. NCIL, the longest-running national cross-disability, grassroots organization run by and for people with disabilities, works to advance independent living and the rights of people with disabilities. Access the latest news, or find a local independent living center or a statewide independent living council here.
- National consortium of Interpreter Education Centers, a proud partner of the Deaf community, developed a Deaf Self-Advocacy Training program. This specialized curriculum is devoted to teaching Deaf individuals to self-advocate for effective interpreting services. Access the curriculum here.