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About Abuse

Abuse in Communities with Disabilities

Updated:
May 14, 2024

What is a disability?

The term “disability” covers many forms and levels of disability, including physical, developmental, and psychological disabilities.

People can be born with disabilities or a disability can result from a life or medical event. Disabilities can impact different areas of a person’s life, such as physical, cognitive, medical, and mental health.1

Some examples of types of disabilities are:

  • Medical: cancer, diabetes, HIV, epilepsy;
  • Developmental: ADHD, autism, Down’s Syndrome;
  • Mobility: cerebral palsy, stroke, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis;
  • Mental health: post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, major depressive disorder;
  • Vision: Blindness, low vision; and
  • Auditory: Deafness, hard of hearing.2  Note: It is important to acknowledge that many people in the Deaf community do not consider deafness to be a disability. Some people embrace the Deaf culture and consider themselves to be part of the unique cultural and linguistic minority who use sign language as their primary language.3

There are many other disabilities not listed here.

1 World Report on Disability, National Institutes of Health (2011)
2 Introduction to the Americans with Disabilities Act, U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division
3 National Deaf Center

How common is it for a person with a disability to be abused by an intimate partner?

Disability affects more than one in four women and one in five men in the United States. It has been associated with a greater risk of experiencing violence compared to people without a disability.1 In fact, research shows that individuals with a disability are more than twice as likely to be victims of a violent crime as those without a disability.2

Some studies show that women with a disability may be more likely to experience violence or abuse by a current or former partner compared to women without disabilities.3 In addition, findings from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey show that women and men with a disability are at increased risk for experiencing sexual violence and intimate partner violence.1

1 Sexual Violence and Intimate Partner Violence Among People with Disabilities, Center for Disease Control and Prevention
2 Harrell, E., Crime Against Persons with Disabilities 2009-2015- Statistical Tables, Bureau of Justice Statistics (2017)
3 Violence against women with disabilities, Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

What forms of abuse are unique to individuals with disabilities?

As a person with a disability, you may experience unique forms of abuse. Sometimes, the abusive acts may be difficult to recognize, making it even harder to get the kind of help needed. Such abuse may include:

  • removing or destroying your mobility devices – for example, wheelchairs, scooters, walkers;
  • destroying devices for communication;
  • taking away or denying you access to your prescribed medication;
  • forcing you to take medication against your will;
  • refusing to provide you with personal care or hygiene;
  • preventing your access to food;
  • inappropriately touching you while assisting with bathing or dressing;
  • denying you access to disability-related resources in the community or health care appointments;
  • physically harming your service animal; or
  • financially exploiting you or misusing your money.1

1 Facts & Resources on Abuse of Women with Disabilities, American Psychological Association

What can I do if I am being abused and have a disability?

If you or someone you care about is being abused by a partner or caregiver, here are some steps that can be taken to seek support and safety:

  • Consider contacting your local domestic violence hotline or the state domestic violence coalition to find out if the nearby shelters can provide the basic accommodations for the type of disability you have, in case you need to go to a shelter in the future.
  • Do your best to surround yourself with people who will provide comfort and empathy, perhaps by joining a support group.
  • You may want to contact your employer or a lawyer who is knowledgeable about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to learn about inclusive policies, resources, and support that an employer must provide for survivors with disabilities in the workplace.
  • If you qualify for one, you may want to consider filing for a restraining order, if necessary, which prohibits an abuser from contacting, harassing, threatening, or approaching you. Keep the order with you at all times.
  • If you feel it can help, you can contact:
    • a psychologist or other licensed mental health provider;
    • your doctor or other primary health care provider; or
    • an organization or shelter for survivors of domestic violence.1
  • Consider contacting Adult Protective Services, a nationwide social services program for seniors and adults with disabilities who require assistance. Friends and family should note that survivors have the right to decline these services.

1 What to do when your abusive partner is also your caregiver, National Domestic Violence Hotline; Women with disabilities: How to identify abuse and get help, American Psychological Association