​Domestic Violence and the Disabled Community Part III: How to Find Help

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on October 29, 2020 # Health, Relationships

Recognizing the signs of domestic violence can be easier than escaping it. Untangling fear and a diminished sense of self-worth after physical or psychological abuse is difficult in the best circumstances; a disability can compound the challenges.

Families or friends concerned that a loved one is experiencing domestic violence should remember that support is best given generously and without judgment. Begin by simply listening and letting the person know there are many places to find help.

Safety Planning

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233Creating a safety plan, whether for support during or after an abusive relationship, can help individuals experiencing abuse build self-protective strategies that might mitigate stressful and dangerous situations.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline, funded by the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and staffed around the clock, offers crisis intervention, referral services, and support designing individualized safety plans for anyone concerned about their own safety or the safety of someone else.

When leaving an abusive relationship is not immediately possible, a safety plan that seeks to prevent or minimize abuse is necessary. In-home safety planning suggestions include:

Identify accessible spaces in the home containing the fewest objects that can be used as weapons and try to move there during arguments; avoid rooms without exits.

Explain the situation to trusted friends or neighbors and establish a code word, sound, or visual signal for when help is needed.

Always try to keep a charged cell phone nearby, whether in a pocket or bag attached to a wheelchair; call the police if in immediate danger.

Speak with children about the abuse and explain violence is never ok; advise them not to intervene in violent episodes and teach them a code word for when to seek help.

If possible, maintain contact with friends and family, and local disability services and providers; seek out support groups to build self-esteem and avoid increasing isolation.

Begin researching local and state resources dedicated to supporting victims of domestic violence.

No matter if a person chooses to remain in an abusive relationship, a safety plan for leaving should be prepared simultaneously. For anyone experiencing domestic violence, but especially people with disabilities, many logistics need to be sorted and accounted for ahead of time.

Gathering legal, financial, and medical documents, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, Medicare or Medicaid records, and bank account information, is a critical step in safety planning. Individuals might store these and other items, such as sentimental belongings, in a safety deposit box.

If possible, open a separate bank account to deposit employment earnings and Social Security Disability Insurance payments directly; reroute payments from a joint to an individual account just before leaving.

Other critical safety planning specifics, according to Barrier Free Living, a New York City-based non-profit serving people with disabilities affected by domestic violence, include:

Make sure to pack all necessary disability-related equipment, including wheelchairs, shower benches, and communication devices.

Consider all medical needs: pack medications, personal care items, and urological supplies.

Compile contact lists of local police departments, shelters, home health agencies, caseworker(s), and other disability service providers to assist in leaving home or coordinating services in a new location.

Pack transportation-related necessities, including fixed-route bus pass, mobility ID card, or special transit ID.

Financial security can be a critical factor in whether a person chooses to leave an abusive situation; fears about not being able to provide for children can leave many individuals feeling trapped. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in conjunction with the National Endowment for Financial Education, offers free financial education webinars to help people experiencing domestic violence regain economic self-sufficiency. The six-part series tackles a range of financial literacy topics, including budgeting, building good credit, and finding affordable housing.

How to Find Accessible Shelters

An important piece of safety planning revolves around locating shelters that can accommodate disabilities. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, shelters are required to offer the same services to people with disabilities as those without or make accommodations to do so. Individuals, family members, or advocates should call shelters ahead of time to seek any necessary accommodations for access, use of service dogs, and visits from a personal attendant or caregiver.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline, along with state domestic violence coalitions, can direct individuals and families to local resources. Other organizations that may be able to provide shelter information and other support include:

Local law enforcement agencies, including the Office of Victim-Witness Advocacy

State offices of Aging and Adult Services

Centers for Independent Living

Faith and community organizations

Reporting Abuse

Families or friends who suspect a loved one is experiencing abuse but, because of a physical or developmental disability, is unable to understand or communicate the abuse, can contact Adult Protective Services on behalf of individuals living in private or home settings. Report suspected abuse in an institutional setting to a state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

Contact information for these agencies, along with information about state laws regarding abuse and links to hotlines and additional regional domestic violence resources, can be found in a searchable state-by-state map compiled by the National Center on Elder Abuse, an advocacy group working to end elder abuse and exploitation.

For support or more information about domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 for anonymous, confidential help available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Read Domestic Violence and the Disabled Community Part I: Defining Domestic Violence.

Read Domestic Violence and the Disabled Community Part II: Red Flags for People with Disabilities.

Resources and further reading:

National Domestic Violence Hotline Path to Safety

Barrier Free Living, shelter and counseling programs for people with disabilities

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Financial Education webinars

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence state-by-state organizations

Health and Human Services state-by-state links to offices of Aging and Adult Services

National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center

National Center on Elder Abuse Domestic Violence Resources List

National Adult Protective Services Association state-by-state map

Independent Living Research Utilization Directory of Centers for Independent Living and Associations

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.