NVAA 2000 Text

Chapter 15 Victimization of Individuals

with Disabilities


Until recently, the victimization of individuals with disabilities has not received national attention, and few victim assistance programs offered services for these victims. With increased awareness of the issue and new federal initiatives in the executive and legislative branches, model programs to serve crime victims with disabilities are expanding. This chapter discusses the progress toward recognizing and meeting the needs of crime victims with disabilities. Requirements of the landmark federal legislation, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, for the criminal justice system and private nonprofit victim assistance programs are outlined. New programs that have been designed to provide services to victims with disabilities are described, and federal law mandating that the issue be studied by the Department of Justice is discussed. In addition, guidelines are provided for the development of critical services in criminal justice and victim assistance programs.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this chapter, students will understand the following concepts:

Statistical Overview


The prevention of victimization and the provision of needed services to individuals with disabilities who are victims of crime are urgent issues that have yet to be comprehensively addressed by public policy makers, the criminal or juvenile justice system, and victim assistance service providers. The lack of attention given these issues, until recently, illustrates the enormous gap that has existed between those who advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities and those who work to ensure fundamental justice in the justice system and advocate for the rights of crime victims.

Throughout the last two decades, these two advocacy movements operated on parallel tracks and made significant gains on behalf of crime victims and individuals with disabilities. Achievements include the passage of significant legislation as well as enhanced and expanded services. As crime victim advocates sought to ensure that victims are "at the center of the criminal and juvenile justice systems," disability advocates sought full "inclusion" of individuals with disabilities in communities and services. Many of the accomplishments of the two movements have been achieved through the joint efforts of self-advocates in partnership with service providers and allied professionals.

Only recently have the crime victims movement and the disability rights movement intersected with a common concern and national focus. The common ground has expanded as our awareness of the victimization of individuals with disabilities has increased and the need to improve our response to victims with disabilities has become clear. A better understanding of the issues related to victimization and victim assistance for individuals with disabilities will enable justice professionals and crime victim advocates to extend the possibility of justice and healing in the aftermath of a crime to victims with disabilities. As a result of their shared concern, victims' rights advocates and service providers and disability rights advocates and service providers have begun to forge coalitions that ultimately will dramatically improve the treatment of crime victims with disabilities.

Causes of Disability

The term "disability" is very broad, and there is a wide variety of conditions that can affect an individual and result in some form of disability. Age of onset, cause, and manifestation of a disability can be significant factors in treatment of individuals with disabilities. The effects of a disability on major life activities can range from mild to severe. The degree and type of accommodation needed for effective service provision for crime victims with disabilities also varies, depending upon the crime and its impact, the victim and his/her individual needs.

Developmental disabilities occur early in life and have a life-long effect on development, adaptive behavior, and learning (i.e., mental retardation, cerebral palsy, severe learning disabilities, and other neurologic conditions). Historically, individuals with developmental disabilities were often placed in state-operated institutions as infants or children where they were isolated from family and society. When widespread physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and neglect of the "patients" in many public facilities were documented in the 1970s and early 1980s, advocates for individuals with developmental disabilities successfully launched the movement to "deinstitutionalize" people with developmental disabilities. "Mainstreaming"--

enabling people with developmental disabilities to participate in the "mainstream of society" within the community--became the goal. As a result, community-based services, such as group homes, other assisted living arrangements, and day programs, have expanded tremendously in the last two decades. However, many individuals continue to live in state and private institutions, and issues related to their vulnerability to abuse and neglect remain a concern of family members and advocates. In addition, in recent years the victimization (sexual assault, financial exploitation, and emotional abuse) of people with developmental disabilities who live in the community has been identified as a concern.

The treatment and educational response to an individual's hearing loss or vision loss may vary, depending upon the cause, when it occurred, and whether the individual has any hearing or sight. Physical disabilities such as hearing or vision loss can be congenital or occur later in life as the result of an illness, accident, or injury due to a violent crime. Previously it was thought the best "special education" that children who were diagnosed with deafness or blindness at a young age could receive was in a special residential school away from family and community. Today, such education services are provided in local public schools. Differences in educational approaches for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing or blind may result in these individuals being more comfortable with different methods of communicating or moving. For example, some individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing are comfortable with sign interpreters while others prefer lip-reading; some may be comfortable with written material while others are not. Some individuals who are blind use a cane; some do not. Not all people who are blind read braille; some use scanners to read written material and others are accustomed to readers.

Disabilities that affect mobility and/or the ability to function independently (i.e., spinal cord injury) can occur in conjunction with a congenital condition or can occur in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood as a result of an automobile accident or crash, diving, or other accident or injury. Rehabilitation for such injuries is often a lengthy, difficult process involving medical treatment, physical and occupational therapy, counseling, vocational training, and other support services. In addition, people whose lives are changed in this way experience countless adjustments as they adapt to changes imposed by the disability.

The likelihood that an individual will have a disability increases with age, in part because the progression of many diseases can have disabling effects that limit activity and many aspects of daily life (i.e., heart disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and many others). In addition, some conditions that occur predominately among the elderly affect memory and intellectual functioning as well as the ability to care for oneself and live independently (i.e., Alzheimer's disease). Individuals with such conditions are often cared for at home by family members or treated in nursing homes or other care facilities.


Millions of people suffer injuries as a result of criminal victimization each year, and many of these injuries cause long-term disabilities. Examples include assault victims who suffer gunshot wounds that cause spinal cord damage or blindness; victims of drunk or drugged drivers who suffer the loss of a limb, spinal cord injuries, or head injuries that cause traumatic brain injury; infants who suffer the effects of "shaken baby syndrome" and sustain severe brain injury and resultant developmental disabilities; children who are victims of severe physical abuse whose emotional and physical development is affected; or victims of domestic violence who sustain permanent injuries as a result of a single battering incident or repeated battering over a period of several years.

For many of these victims, the traumatic impact of the victimization is compounded by the life-changing impact of the disabling condition. The combination of these circumstances, imposed abruptly and unexpectedly, can have a profound emotional impact. Depending upon the disability, the impact may be seen in many areas. For example, mobility or the ability to live and travel independently may be affected and loss of employment and change in economic status may result. In addition, the impact is felt by family members who also experience changes in relationships and "the loss" of the way their lives had been. While coping with medical or mental health treatments and rehabilitation and these unexpected life changes, individuals who acquire a disability as the result of a crime may also have to cope with involvement with the criminal or juvenile justice system as a victim and/or witness.

Sensitivity to the needs of these crime victims and their physical and emotional recovery process is essential to providing effective victim assistance. In addition to providing information about the status of the case and facilitating participation in criminal or juvenile justice proceedings, victim assistance may need to coordinate a broad range of community resources and referrals and long-term support. Coordination with other service providers (medical, rehabilitative, income assistance, housing, etc.) may be necessary. Financial remedies such as crime victim compensation, criminal restitution, and civil actions against the perpetrator and other persons responsible are very important in such cases.

Attitudes and Myths About Disabilities

There are tens of millions of Americans with disabilities, many of whom have been victims of crime and most of whom are at risk of being victims of crime. Societal attitudes toward individuals with disabilities often reflect negative stereotypes and a lack of knowledge. Attitudinal barriers are usually subtle but discernible. Examples include reactions of disgust, pity, or discomfort expressed both verbally and non-verbally, overtly and covertly.

Tyiska (1998) discusses three myths about individuals with disabilities that were identified at an OVC-sponsored national symposium held to discuss issues related to assistance for victims with disabilities. Each of these myths is based on negative stereotypes and interferes with many people's ability to relate and interact with individuals with disabilities.

In 1990, Dick Sobsey outlined five "cultural myths" surrounding people with disabilities that serve to undermine their individuality and value as people, and even contribute to their vulnerability to abuse.

These attitudes undermine the individual's self-advocacy and increase vulnerability. Sobsey suggests that "changing societal attitudes towards persons with disabilities" is important to long-term empowerment and the prevention of abuse. Through empowerment and self-advocacy, individuals with developmental disabilities will better be able to protect themselves from abuse or seek assistance to end it.

Scope of the Problem of Victimization of

Individuals with Disabilities

There is no definitive or comprehensive source of information on the extent of the problem of victimization of individuals with disabilities. However, considerable research conducted over the last two decades consistently suggests that individuals with disabilities are as likely or more likely than nondisabled individuals to be victimized by crime. Research consistently reports that children and adults with disabilities are at much greater risk of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse (Sobsey and Mansell 1990, 1998; Sobsey and Doe 1991; Sobsey 1994, Sobsey et al. 1994; Doucette 1986; Crosse, Kaye, and Ratnofsky 1993; Baladerian 1991). In addition to the growing evidence of victimization, anecdotal evidence suggests that crimes against individuals with disabilities are seriously underreported, and that when it is reported, victims are not believed and cases are not prosecuted (Sorensen 1997; Petersilia 1997; Sanders et al. 1997). Finally, it appears that few victims with disabilities ever reach victim assistance programs for assistance and support.

In addition, concerns about violence against women with disabilities are growing among disability advocates and researchers (Chenoweth 1996; Young et al. 1997; Harness-DiGloria 1999). In 1995­1996, a survey was conducted by Berkeley Planning Associates under a federal grant entitled Meeting the Needs of Women with Disabilities: A Blueprint for Change. The survey sought input from women with disabilities about the importance of various research and policy issues. Issues relating to violence and abuse were rated as the number one priority of survey respondents.


The issue of child abuse and disabilities emerged in the mid-1980s; however the full extent of the problem was not known until a national study was mandated by Congress in 1988 (Crosse 1993). Early efforts in this area focused on the dual problem of the abuse of children with disabilities and the disabling effects of child abuse. Early programs combined the expertise of child abuse diagnostic and treatment specialists with the expertise of specialists in developmental and other disabilities in children:

In 1993, the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) released the findings of a comprehensive national study entitled A Report on the Maltreatment of Children with Disabilities. The Report was prepared in response to Section 102(a) of the Child Abuse Prevention, Adoption, and Family Services Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-294). The study focused on maltreated children who had physical, intellectual, or emotional disabilities. Much of the information in the Report is based on data collected from a representative sample of thirty-five child protective service (CPS) agencies, which provided information on all cases of substantiated maltreatment of children over a six-week period in 1991. Information was collected on cases involving 1,834 children whose maltreatment was substantiated. The study found the following:

Based on the results of this study, six recommendations were made:

1. Risk assessment approaches used in child protective services (CPS) agencies should include the child's specific disabilities as a risk factor.

2. CPS caseworkers should be educated on the relationship between maltreatment and disabilities, on identifying disabilities, and on making appropriate referrals for children with disabilities.

3. Professionals who come into contact with children with disabilities should be educated on the relationship between maltreatment and disabilities, on identifying disabilities, and on making appropriate referrals for children with disabilities.

4. State and federal systems that report information on cases of child maltreatment should include uniform information on whether or not children have disabilities.

5. Caseworkers in CPS agencies and professionals in other settings should provide specialized services to prevent maltreatment in families who have children with disabilities.

6. Future research should continue to study the relationship among child maltreatment, race/ethnicity, and disabilities, and on the causal relationship between disabilities and maltreatment (Crosse, Kaye, and Ratnofsky 1993).

Response to Crime Victims with Disabilities

The victimization of individuals with disabilities was largely overlooked on the national level prior to passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12101). The ADA provided a new framework for governmental and nonprofit agencies responding to individuals with disabilities. Since its implementation, the Department of Justice and other federal agencies have initiated a variety of efforts to provide information to state and local criminal and juvenile justice agencies and victim assistance programs on the intent and requirements of the Act. However, despite these efforts, many programs that serve crime victims lack a full understanding of whether their program is covered by the Act and what is required. The two sections of the Act that are of particular importance to justice systems and victim assistance programs are described below. Other significant national efforts and legislation pertaining to individuals and victims with disabilities are also described.


On July 26, 1990, landmark federal legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (Pub. L. 101-336; 42 U.S.C. 12101), was enacted to provide comprehensive civil rights protection to people with disabilities in the areas of employment, public accommodations, state and local government services, and telecommunications. A fundamental purpose of the ADA is to promote the full integration of individuals with disabilities into the "mainstream" of society.

In the legislation, Congress articulated a number of findings (Section 12101), which include the following passages:

The requirements of two specific sections of the ADA are especially important for government-based and private nonprofit programs that serve victims of crime. These sections are Title II, which covers public entities and Title III, which covers public accommodations, including private entities that own, operate, or lease places of public accommodation.

Qualified individuals with disabilities. The ADA extended broad civil rights protection to people with a wide range of disabilities. U.S. Department of Justice regulations that implement Titles II and III (28 CFR Part 35 and 36) provide the following definitions:

- A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.

- A record of such impairment.

- Being regarded as having such an impairment.

If a person meets any one of the three criteria listed above, then the person is covered by the Act. Major life activities include functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

- Neurological.

- Musculoskeletal.

- Special sense organs.

- Respiratory (including speech organs).

- Cardiovascular.

- Reproductive.

- Digestive.

- Genitourinary.

- Hemic (blood).

- Lymphatic.

- Skin and endocrine.

- Mental retardation.

- Organic brain syndrome.

- Emotional or mental illness.

- Specific learning disorders.

Although no comprehensive list of all of the specific conditions that would constitute physical or mental impairments exists, the ADA is thought to cover hundreds of disabling conditions. Examples of specific physical or mental impairments covered by the ADA include such contagious and noncontagious diseases and conditions as:

Individuals who currently engage in the illegal use of drugs are not protected by the ADA when an action is taken on the basis of their current illegal drug use.

Title II of the ADA: Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services. Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities, and extends the nondiscrimination mandate of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to all state and local government services regardless of whether the entity receives federal financial assistance. This includes all activities, services, and programs of state legislatures, courts, town meetings, police and fire departments, motor vehicle licensing, and employment.

More specifically, the ADA prohibits a public entity from excluding or denying the benefits of services, programs or activities to a "qualified individual with a disability," on the basis of the disability. A "qualified individual with a disability" means an individual with a disability who meets the "essential eligibility requirements" for the services or participation in the programs or activities, regardless of whether reasonable modifications are needed to do so. In other words, any individual who would normally be eligible for a service that is offered (for example, counseling or information and referral provided by a victim assistance program) cannot be denied that service just because the person has a disability.

In order to ensure access to all government-sponsored programs, services and activities must make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, or procedures. This includes the removal of architectural, communication, and transportation barriers and the provision of auxiliary aids and services to ensure that communication with individuals with disabilities is as effective as communication with others.


State and local government programs must ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities by providing appropriate auxiliary devices. A wide range of devices is currently available that afford an individual with equal opportunity to participate in programs and services. In determining the most appropriate auxiliary communication aid, service providers should defer to the preference of the individual whenever possible.

The types of devices or services that facilitate communication vary significantly. A particular device or service may be preferred by some and yet be completely inappropriate for others with the same type of disability. For example, some people who are deaf prefer sign language interpreters while others do not sign at all. A public entity may not charge an individual with a disability for the use of any auxiliary aid.

The following examples of auxiliary aids and services make aurally delivered material available to individuals with hearing impairments:

The following examples of auxiliary aids and services make visually delivered material available to individuals with visual impairments:

If provision of the auxiliary aid would result in a fundamental alteration of the nature of the service, program, or activity or is an undue financial or administrative burden, public entities are not required to provide them. However, public entities are still required to provide another auxiliary aid, if available, that would not have these results.

Other Barriers to Accessibility

Public entities must ensure that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from services, programs, or activities because buildings are not accessible. Where possible, barriers should be removed. The public entity may comply with the program accessibility requirement by delivering services at alternate accessible sites, providing an aide or personal assistant, or providing the service at an individual's home. Government programs may not provide access by physically carrying an individual with a disability (for example, up a flight of stairs), except in "manifestly exceptional" circumstances. While it is not necessary to remove physical barriers, such as stairs, in all existing buildings, any newly constructed or renovated buildings must be free of all architectural and communication barriers that restrict access or use by individuals with disabilities.

The purpose for the removal of barriers and the use of communication aids is to:

Separate programs or services provided to people with disabilities are not permitted in most instances unless the separate programs are necessary to ensure that the benefits and services are equally effective. Even when such programs are available, an individual with a disability still has the right to choose to participate in the regular program. Further, programs may not have criteria that "tend to" screen out people with disabilities.

Title III: Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities. Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and requires that public accommodations and commercial facilities (including social service agencies) be designed and altered to meet accessibility standards. The definition of public accommodation in Title III includes twelve categories of facilities, one of which is "social service center establishments." Implementing regulations (28 CFR Part 36) specifically include rape crisis centers, substance abuse treatment centers, and homeless shelters among the types of establishments that are included.

The requirements of Title III are similar in intent to those of Title II. Public accommodations must satisfy the following requirements:


In The Americans with Disabilities Act and Criminal Justice: An Overview, Rubin (1993) suggests the following questions to determine whether a governmental agency is meeting the requirements of the ADA:

Rubin suggests that if the answer to any of these questions is "yes," the agency may need to revise the way it offers its programs, services, or activities.

For further information about ADA compliance, please refer to the Additional Resources at the end of this chapter.


On the national level, little attention was given to the issue of how to respond to crime victims with disabilities until the year the ADA was passed. By 1990, the crime victims' discipline had achieved significant recognition and VOCA funding had enabled crime victim assistance and compensation programs to expand services and increase in number. Several milestones that illustrate the victim service field's growing awareness and concern about addressing the needs of victims with disabilities are noted below:



In 1997, the Office for Victims of Crime modified the VOCA Assistance Guidelines that give direction and guidance to the states and territories administering VOCA funding to strengthen its message regarding services to victims with disabilities. According to the Office for Victims of Crime, VOCA administrators are strongly encouraged to require state and local programs to meet the needs of disabled crime victims. In the 1997 VOCA Guidelines, allowable costs to accommodate the needs of crime victims with disabilities are addressed as follows:



The Office for Victims of Crime within the U.S. Department of Justice provided funding to NOVA to host a two-day "Transfer of Knowledge" symposium on the needs of victims with disabilities. The symposium convened experts (including victims of crime with disabilities) from the fields of disability rights and services, crime victims advocacy and services, and research, January 23­24, 1998, to discuss issues related to the extent of victimization of people with disabilities and how to improve the capacity and preparedness of victim service providers to respond effectively to the needs of crime victims with disabilities.

Highlights of the symposium discussions were published in an OVC Bulletin, entitled Working with Victims of Crimes with Disabilities (Tyiska 1998). The Bulletin represents the first attempt to outline recommendations for crime victim and disability advocates, service providers, and Department of Justice agencies with regard to this important topic. The Symposium participants developed fifteen recommendations for criminal justice agencies and victim service programs, eight recommendations for disability rights specialists, ten recommendations for OVC, and five recommendations for other Department of Justice agencies. Excerpts from the recommendations for criminal justice and victim assistance programs are as follows:


1. Criminal justice agencies and victim service programs should receive training on the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and should support its vigorous enforcement. Such agencies and programs should take advantage of technical assistance that is available and abide by the letter as well as the spirit of the law, ensuring equal access to the justice system.

2. When full implementation is not immediately achievable, criminal justice agencies and victim service programs should initiate a transition plan that focuses on obtaining accessibility by a specified date. Such compliance plans are mandated under Titles II and III, and should guide the development of incremental steps toward accessibility.

3. Criminal justice agencies and victim assistance programs should be proactive in acquiring technology that would help crime victims with disabilities to be informed, present, heard, and understood when they communicate with law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and victim advocates, through all phases of the criminal justice process. (Note: VOCA funds may be used to cover the costs of acquiring assistive devices and other necessary efforts that enable victim service providers and crime victims to communicate effectively.)

4. Once the agency is accessible and staff is trained, criminal justice agencies and victim assistance programs should publicize their ability to work with crime victims with disabilities by putting the universal symbol of access (a line drawing of a wheelchair) and a TDD/TTY number on all literature, promotional materials, and business cards issued by the agency.

Training and networking.

5. Criminal justice and victim assistance personnel should receive training on disabilities, including instruction on disability cultures. In addition, criminal justice and victim assistance programs should enlist qualified people with a wide range of different disabilities to lead the development of policies and programs designed to assist crime victims with disabilities.

6. Criminal justice and victim assistance programs should reach out to local disability service organizations, providing information about victims' rights and services.

7. Criminal justice and victim assistance programs should develop coalitions, as well as cross training and joint training opportunities, with disability advocacy and service programs to build better working relationships and to improve mutual understanding of each others' programs and services.

Improved policies, procedures, and protocols.

8. Agencies should implement or extend streamlined interviewing and intake procedures so that crime victims with disabilities, particularly those with cognitive or communication disabilities, do not have to undergo repeated interviewing in different locations. A multidisciplinary approach involving law enforcement, prosecution, victim assistance, and others as needed, in victim-friendly environments would be far more effective as well as cost-efficient.

9. Agencies should develop and implement specific protocols on disclosures, confidentiality, and safety for crime victims with disabilities, particularly where there is potential for retaliation by a caregiver or a disability services agency. For example, when a crime victim with a disability reports to law enforcement or others that he or she is being victimized by a caregiver, the victim should be provided assistance with relocating or obtaining an emergency replacement caregiver.

10. Criminal justice and victim assistance programs should incorporate into existing policies, procedures, and protocols the specific inclusion of persons with disabilities who are victims or witnesses of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, impaired driving crashes, survivors of homicide victims, or other violent personal crimes, and economic crimes.

In conclusion, the author notes that although few networks exist that link victim service providers with their counterparts in the field of disability, such linkages at the local level hold the greatest hope for policy and programmatic changes that will improve services for crime victims with disabilities. Such a partnership, built on mutual respect and a willingness to share knowledge and ideas, will strengthen the ability of victim and disability advocates to ensure that all crime victims are afforded fundamental justice and access to quality, comprehensive services.


In 1997, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) released a report entitled Americans With Disabilities Act: Emergency Response Systems and Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf. As part of NIJ's Research in Action series, the report summarizes results and lessons learned by the incorporation of telecommunication devices for the Deaf through TDD capability in Denver, Colorado's 911 telephone emergency response services.


The Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has given new priority to the issue of preventing victimization and improving the response to individuals with developmental disabilities who are victims of crime. In 1998, ADD funded nine discretionary grants primarily to university affiliated programs which specialize in providing services and training to professionals who work with individuals with developmental disabilities. A list of the programs, which are located around the country, along with their major goals is provided below:


Over the last two decades "accepted" terminology related to disabilities has changed significantly. The term "mainstreaming" was used a decade or more ago to refer to enabling individuals with disabilities, particularly children who had been placed in separate special education classes, to participate and receive services in their public school or community. More recently, the term "inclusion" is used to convey the practice of including people with disabilities in "regular" programs or services, instead of special/separate services. "Least restrictive environment" refers to the optimum environment with the least amount of restriction in which the individual with a disability can learn, develop, and function as independently as possible. For example, an individual with a developmental disability may live in a group home that offers fewer restrictions and more opportunities for independence and community involvement than does living in an institution.

At the time of enactment of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, the terms "handicapped" and "people with handicapping conditions" was used to describe people with disabilities. In 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, "individuals with disabilities" was commonly used throughout the statute and its implementing regulations to refer to the entire population of people who are covered by the protections conveyed in the Act.

Despite this usage in legislation and laws, one important message is clear: an individual with a disability may be very comfortable with some terms and very uncomfortable with others. The "disability community" is not a single entity with a single set of preferences or concerns about terminology or treatment. In fact, it encompasses a very diverse group of individuals with disabilities and their family members. It is so diverse because literally hundreds of physical and mental conditions that limit major life activities, to a mild or severe degree, are covered by the ADA (for example, diabetes, mental illness, cerebral palsy, and learning disabilities, all of which may be associated with mild or very severe disabilities). Thus, there is no single source of information on terminology that is comfortable to all individuals with disabilities.


The best way to show sensitivity and respect for the preferences of a crime victim who has a disability is to ask the individual which terminology he or she is most comfortable with. For example, some individuals who have a loss of hearing are deaf, while others may have some hearing or be "hard of hearing." The terms "deaf" or "hard of hearing" may be more preferable to an individual than the term "hearing impaired." To ensure that the terms you use are not offensive, ask the individual victim for guidance on his or her individual preferences. Many terms used to describe disabilities or individuals with disabilities evoke stereotypes that are negative and dehumanizing to the individual. For example, terms such as "deaf and dumb," "disabled," or "wheelchair-bound" have a negative connotation and yet have been used by many people to describe individuals with disabilities. Such terms should not be used.

When designing services for individuals with disabilities, victim assistance providers should be mindful that many advocates for crime victims with disabilities regard the terms "special needs" or "special services" as negative and inappropriate. They point out that victims with disabilities simply want the services to which they are entitled and request reasonable accommodations to ensure that they are accessible. They do not want "special services," they want appropriate and accessible services that are individualized to meet their needs (Tyiska 1998).

Care also should be taken with regard to the term "victim" when working with crime victims with disabilities. The term "victim" has been used with a negative connotation to refer to many medical conditions, for example "victim of heart disease" or "victim of cancer." Many disability advocates have fought to overcome this label, and its use following criminal victimization may add an additional burden due to prior experience. This may be a significant issue for some, and not a concern for others. Again, the best way to ensure sensitive treatment of a crime victim is to ask about individual preferences.

Guidance for Working with Crime Victims with Disabilities

While no all-encompassing, up-to-date curriculum that outlines strategies for working with all victims with disabilities is currently available, the following section offers guidance for victim assistance service programs on addressing the needs of crime victims with disabilities. These recommended strategies incorporate many of the ideas contained in Gregorie's Focus on the Future (Gregorie 1994) and the recent OVC Bulletin, Working with Victims with Disabilities (Tyiska 1998).

The best method of determining what accommodations people with different disabilities need in order to access services is to solicit the input of individuals with different disabilities regarding how to make a program or facility accessible. Contacting local organizations that provide services to individuals with various types of disabilities and inviting their guidance and collaboration in assessing accessibility and planning improvements are essential to achieving a truly accessible victim service program--a program that is barrier-free in both architecture and communication access.



Promising Practices

After the first year of this project, twenty-three deaf women from five separate communitites (the San Francisco Bay area, Minneapolis, Rochester, New York, Boston, and Austin, Texas) were undergoing training for the development of services for deaf women who are victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. ADWAS staff delivered follow-up technical assistance on-site in each of the communities. At the close of 1998, all five communities were preparing to offer a twenty-four-hour crisis line and basic services to victims during 1999. During the next phase of this project, OVC will fund ADWAS to assist the development of programs for deaf women in additional communities, including Washington, DC, Des Moines, Iowa, Burlington, Vermont, and Flint/Detroit, Michigan.

Victimization of Individuals

with Disabilities Self-Examination

1. Identify the types of victim assistance programs that are covered under Title II of the ADA and name two ways that compliance issues may arise for such programs.

2. Who is considered to be a "qualified individual with a disability" under Title II or Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

3. Since enactment of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, must all government programs, regardless of whether they receive federal funding, meet the anti-discrimination requirements of the Act?

4. What are some of the obstacles faced by crime victims with disabilities in receiving victim assistance services?

5. You have just received a case file involving a victim who is deaf and has been referred to your program for services. Name three important factors you will consider in planning your response.

6. List four agencies or organizations in your community that you believe would be helpful in assisting your office to assess how "barrier-free" your programs and services are, and include one reason why you would tap the expertise of each.

Chapter 14 References

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Holmes, J. F. 1999. "U.S. Population, A Profile of America's Diversity--The View from the Census Bureau, 1998." In The World Almanac and Book of Facts, Mahwah, NJ: Primedia Reference.

LaPlante, M., and D. Carlson. 1996. "Disability in the U.S. : Prevalence and Causes, 1992." Disability Statistics Report (7). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

Marshall, J. 1997. Midwest LEAD Institute. Jefferson City, MO: State of Missouri, Department of Public Safety.

National Institute of Justice (NIJ). 1997. Americans With Disabilities Act: Emergency Response Systems and Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Pawelski, C. 1992. "The World of Disabilities." National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse, The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect 1 (4): 3.

Petersilia, J. 15 January 1998. "Persons with Developmental Disabilities in the Criminal Justice System: Victims, Defendants, and Inmates." Statement before the California Senate Public Safety Committee, California Legislature.

Rubin, P. September 1993. "The Americans with Disabilities Act and Criminal Justice: An Overview." Research in Action. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

Sanders, A., J. Creaton, S. Bird, and L. Weber. 1997. Victims With Learning Disabilities: Negotiating the Criminal Justice System. Oxford, England: University of Oxford, Centre for Criminological Research.

Sobsey, D. 1992. "What We Know about Abuse and Disabilities." National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse, The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect 1 (4): 4.

Sobsey, D. 1994. Violence and Abuse in the Lives of People with Disabilities: The End of Silent Acceptance? Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Sobsey, D., and T. Doe. 1991. "Patterns of Sexual Abuse and Assault." Sexuality and Disability 9: 243-259.

Sobsey, D., and S. Mansell. 1990. "The Prevention of Sexual Abuse of People with Developmental Disabilities." Developmental Disabilities Bulletin 18 (2): 55-66.

Sobsey, D., and S. Mansell. 1998. "Clinical Findings Among Sexually Abused Children with and without Developmental Disabilities." Mental Retardation 36 (1).

Sobsey, D., D. Wells, R. Lucardie, and S. Mansell. 1994. Violence and Disability: An Annotated Bibliography. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Sorensen, D. 1997. "The Invisible Victims." Impact. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration (UAP)/Research and Training Center on Community Living.

Tobin, P. 1992. "Addressing Special Vulnerabilities in Prevention." National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse, the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect 1 (4): 5.

Tyiska, C. 1990. "Responding to Disabled Victims of Crime." NOVA Network Information Bulletin, 8-12. Washington, DC: National Organization for Victim Assistance.

Tyiska, C. 1998. "Working With Victims with Disabilities." Office for Victims of Crime Bulletin, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime.

Young, M. E., M. A. Nosek, C. Howland, G. Changpong, and D. Rintala. 1997. "Prevalence of Abuse of Women with Physical Disabilities." Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 78 (December).

Chapter 14 Additional Resources

Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services. 1996. Domestic Violence in Deaf Community. Seattle, WA: Outreach Packet.

Aiello, D., and L. Capkin. 1984. "Services for Disabled Victims: Elements and Standards, Response." Response to Violence in the Family and Sexual Assault 7 (5): 14.

Furey, E. M. 1994. "Sexual Abuse of Adults with Mental Retardation: Who and Where." Mental Retardation 32 (3).

Lewis, M., and M. Smith. 1995. "A Community Based Model Providing Services for Deaf and Deaf-Blind Victims of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence." Sexuality and Disability 13 (2): 97-106.

McPherson, C. 1990. "Bringing Redress to Abused, Disabled Persons." NOVA Network Information Bulletin, 8-12, 14.

Monahan, J. October 1996. "Mental Illness and Violent Crime." Research in Action. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

National Symposium on Abuse and Neglect of Children with Disabilities. 1995. Abuse and Neglect of Children with Disabilities: Report and Recommendations. Lawrence, KS: The Beach Center on Families and Disability, University of Kansas, and the Erikson Institute of Chicago.

Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). 1998. "Initiatives to Combat Violence Against Women." Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Rubin, P. June 1995. "Civil Rights and Criminal Justice: Employment Discrimination Overview." Research in Action. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

Sobsey, D. 1988. "Sexual Offense and Disabled Victims: Research and Practical Implications." VIS-A-VIS 6 (4).

Sorensen, D. 1996. Criminal Justice Task Force for Persons with Developmental Disabilities. Sacramento, CA: Victims of Crime Section.

Sorensen, D. 1996. "The Invisible Victim." Prosecutor's Brief: The California District Attorneys Association's Quarterly Journal 19 (1): 6-7, 24-26.

Stimpson, L., and E. Best. 1991. Courage above All: Sexual Assault and Women with Disabilities. Toronto: DisAbled Women's Network.

Ticoll, M. 1992. No More Victims: A Manual to Guide the Police in Addressing the Sexual Abuse of People with a Mental Handicap. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice offers technical assistance on ADA Standards for Accessible Design and other ADA provisions applying to state and local government programs and nonprofit organizations: ADA Information Line: 800­514­0301 (voice); 800­514­0383 (TDD); and on the Internet <http://www.justice.gov/.crt.ada.adahom1.htm>.

The Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTACs) are a network of programs that provide information, training, and technical assistance on ADA responsibilities. These regional programs are supported by the U.S. Department of Education National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. Contact 800­949­4232 (Voice/TDD) or <www.icdi.wvu.edu/tech/ada.htm> for the program in your region.

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2000 NVAA Text
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