With 20 percent of America’s population being subjected to violence at rates three times higher than the rest of the population, why are so many organizations unprepared to serve people with disabilities who have experienced violence? One reason is that there is an overarching lack of awareness about this problem among policymakers, practitioners, and other stakeholders in the fields of disability, criminal justice, and victim services. Understanding the magnitude of this problem and the barriers to safety and healing survivors with disabilities face is essential for organizations and systems within these fields to implement solutions to overcome those barriers.
Across the country, practitioners in the disability and victim services fields are using an array of strategies to successfully raise awareness about abuse of people with disabilities and the needs of these survivors.
Convening Issue-Specific Task Forces
Some organizations have created task forces comprised of champions and experts to cultivate and maintain awareness about this issue among their stakeholders. Task forces serve an important role within organizations as they can ensure that this issue becomes and remains a priority. Task force members raise the issue on the individual level and a collective level within the agency. A few promising task forces include the National Council on Independent Living’s Violence & Abuse Task Force, Delaware’s Victims Rights Task Force: Disabilities Subcommittee, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities’ Child Abuse Prevention Task Force, and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network’s Abilities Caucus.
Addressing this Issue at Community Awareness Events
Building on existing awareness months, such as Sexual Assault Awareness month in April and Disability Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness month in October, offers opportunities to explore the unique ways these issues impact people with disabilities. For instance, if a community already has a “Silent Witness” display as part of its awareness events, it can add a figure that represents a person with a disability. Or, if sponsoring a “Clothesline Project,” communities can add grey t-shirts to represent abuse of people with disabilities.
Supporting Legislative Action Days
Many organizations sponsor legislative action days in an effort to raise their issues to policy-makers and some of those organizations have begun incorporating abuse of people with disabilities into their agendas for these events.
Steps You Can Take
- Gather the Facts. The first step in effectively raising awareness is to learn about the issue and how it impacts the people in your community. Learn about the incidence rate, the dynamics of abuse of people with disabilities, and the recommended strategies for addressing that abuse before starting any awareness campaign.
- Tailor Your Message. When raising awareness about abuse of people with disabilities, it is critical that the strategy used resonates with the audience. Some audiences may be moved by statistics while others are more interested in personal stories and still others will want to have personal involvement. Before selecting a set of strategies, get to know the intended audience and tailor the approach accordingly.
- Leverage Existing Forums. There are a number of existing forums that can be used to raise awareness. You can use your social media networks to spread the word about this issue among your peers, friend groups, and professional networks. You can also author opinion pieces in your local newspapers to highlight this issue to the broader community. Additionally, many organizations will have annual awareness campaigns. You can work with them to integrate abuse of people with disabilities into their existing awareness efforts.
- Create New Opportunities. Events dedicated specifically to the issue of abuse of people with disabilities serve to shine a powerful spotlight on this issue. You can host discussions on this topic within your workplace to raise awareness, helping your colleagues understand how this work intersects with and impacts the people the organization serves. You can also create posters and educational materials specific to this issue that you distribute within the community. With a small amount of resources and strong partnerships, you can also create a public event that invites the larger community to learn directly from individuals with disabilities about their experiences.
- Get Involved. Many of the organizations in your community that serve people with disabilities and the organizations that address abuse are in need of volunteers and other supports. Volunteering your time at these organizations provides you an opportunity to raise awareness about abuse of people with disabilities. The more you involve yourself in this issue, the more you will learn and be able to teach others. Consider introducing the topic during staff meetings and discussions, circulating news stories and other events that highlight this issue, and inviting survivors with disabilities to speak at your events and organization.
Resources You Can Use
- National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. National Crime Victims’ Rights Week takes place each April. Designed to help communities and victim assistance providers promote awareness of crime victim issues, the website and corresponding Guide includes statistics, educational content, campaign materials, artwork, and a theme video.
- Find Local Volunteer Opportunities. To find local domestic and sexual violence organizations in your state, you can search the Office on Violence Against Women’s resource map for state sexual assault, domestic violence, and tribal coalitions. You can also search for your local domestic violence shelter or your local rape crisis center.