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Promising Practices for Serving Crime Victims With Disabilities Toolkit

Message From the Director

Since 1998, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) within the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice has taken a leading role in raising awareness in the victims’ field about the victimization of persons with disabilities. OVC has worked to improve services to crime victims with disabilities through demonstration projects such as the one featured in this online guide, national training and technical assistance initiatives, conference support, and the development of various other publications and online resources.

Disability advocates continue to report an epidemic of victimization committed against people with disabilities. But despite the high rate of crime estimated as perpetuated against people with disabilities, many victim assistance agencies report that they rarely serve crime victims from this population. This suggests both an opportunity for raising community, criminal justice system, and individual awareness of victim services as well as the need to make those services accessible to people with disabilities.

In addition to funding the programs outlined above, OVC has modified the federal guidelines for the administration of Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding, the major source of financial support for victim services in this country, to better serve victims with disabilities. But perhaps the most important result of OVC initiatives to raise awareness and better serve this population has been the partnership forged between the disability and victim advocacy fields, uniting our previous well-intentioned but separate efforts into a strong voice for fundamental justice for all victims, including people with disabilities. It is OVC’s hope that the Promising Practices in Serving Victims of Crime With Disabilities bulletin and online guide will provide information and concrete tools to help further develop these collaborations.

The bulletin and online guide developed as a result of this demonstration project are designed to promote awareness of the issues faced by crime victims with disabilities and to improve community capacity to better serve them by providing a user-friendly resource for organizations wishing to replicate similar project activities and outcomes. The online guide, especially, reflects the actual sequence of activities completed by each subgrantee of the SafePlace demonstration project and offers practical advice and examples to help communities replicate the project models featured and develop those appropriate to their locale.

John W. Gillis
Director
Office for Victims of Crime


About This Guide

Purpose of This Project

OVC funded Promising Practices in Serving Crime Victims With Disabilities (hereafter referred to as Promising Practices), a 3-year discretionary cooperative agreement (number 2002-VF-GX-K005), to improve local criminal justice and service provider response to people with disabilities, both within each subgrantee agency and throughout the communities they serve. This toolkit and the companion bulletin are products of the grant, which was in effect from 2002 to 2006.

Through a competitive application process, 10 victim services, law enforcement, and disability services organizations from throughout the country were chosen to participate in the project. Each subgrantee developed its own collaborative partnerships, comprehensive needs assessment, strategic plan, evaluation process, and sustainability plan, enabling each to bring proven techniques and practices to bear on the unique situations in each city, county, or region. OVC chose SafePlace to administer the project and monitor the work of the 10 subgrantees.

Using This Publication

This toolkit is a guide and resource for organizations seeking to improve their skills and response to crime victims with disabilities. It is designed to benefit a wide range of entities and explore a variety of issues, but its primary use is for identifying and addressing the issues and obstacles that people with disabilities encounter in the aftermath of abuse or victimization.

The information gathered, lessons learned, and progress made during the grant period was instrumental in developing this resource, which offers practical advice and examples that organizations may use to replicate Promising Practices into similar project activities and outcomes in their communities.

Those who might benefit from the tools and strategies contained in this toolkit include—

  • Municipalities.
  • Law enforcement and criminal justice agencies.
  • Victim service programs and advocates.
  • State adult and child protective services personnel.
  • Domestic violence and sexual assault programs.
  • Social service systems, agencies, and workgroups.
  • Local nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups working with people with disabilities.
  • Other entities and frontline personnel charged with serving and assisting people with disabilities.
  • Anyone interested in gaining knowledge about and taking steps to stop the victimization of people with disabilities in their community.

Acknowledgments

OVC would like to acknowledge the following persons and organizations for their contributions:

  • Judith Barrett and Susan Henry of Ability1st
  • Sgt. Don Priddy, Susie Toliver, and Bedsy Lee of the Carbondale Police Department
  • Robin VanderLaan of the Chadwick Center for Children and Families
  • Deputy Shirley Collins of the Lafourche Sheriff’s Department
  • Kathy Bennett of the Network of Victim Assistance
  • Edwina Knox-Betty and Kara Sedore of the Partnership Against Domestic Violence
  • Dr. Jenny Manders, who worked with the Partnership Against Domestic Violence through the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University
  • Denise Roy and Marianne Winters of the Rape Crisis Center of Central Massachusetts
  • Michael Mandel of the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault
  • Tory Dixon and Janet Shaw of the Stavros Center for Independent Living
  • Laura Wells, Laura Benjamin, and Cindy Green of the Ulster County Crime Victims Assistance Program
  • Dianne King Akers, Wendie Abramson, Rand Metcalfe, Stephanie Horgan, and Meghan Kearns of SafePlace

This toolkit was created from a compendium of resources developed by SafePlace. Those resources were distilled into this toolkit under the auspices of OVC staff and the OVC Training and Technical Assistance Center (OVC TTAC). OVC TTAC assists victim service providers, advocates, and other allied professionals in learning new skills and adopting best practices that will enhance their ability to provide quality victim services.


Introduction

Despite a high rate of crime against people with disabilities, many victim assistance agencies report that they rarely serve persons from this population. Does this suggest that people with disabilities are unaware of victim services, or that the services available to them are inaccessible? Are law enforcement officers and victim service advocates being trained to recognize the needs of crime victims with disabilities, or to provide accommodations for them? What conditions prevent persons with disabilities from reporting a crime or accessing victim services?

The answers to these questions are complicated. Some people with disabilities, their caregivers, and their families do not report crimes or access victim services because they are not familiar with the agencies that can help them. Others are intimidated by the paperwork or processes involved in reporting a crime, which may include concerns about inaccessible buildings and communication or concerns about dealing with law enforcement and victim advocates based on past experience. Many fear the consequences of publicizing the incident, such as losing a needed attendant, being blamed or criticized by loved ones, or being threatened by the abuser. Some simply don’t understand or recognize that what they have experienced is actually a crime.

Likewise, law enforcement officials and victim service professionals may have limited experience in serving crime victims with disabilities, and therefore may not understand how to provide appropriate support. Many first responders still have not received disability-specific training in the areas of crisis intervention, forensic interviewing, and accommodations.

This toolkit identifies and addresses the issues and obstacles encountered by people with disabilities who have been victimized or abused. The information provided in this resource and the companion bulletin is intended to function as a guide for organizations seeking to improve their capacity to respond to crime victims with disabilities.


Keys to Collaboration: Choosing, Nurturing, and Maintaining Successful Community Partnerships

Building cooperative relationships with key individuals and agencies working in your local area is a natural place to start the process of improving services to crime victims with disabilities. Fruitful collaborations can enhance your work by expanding the reach of your efforts in ways a single service provider cannot accomplish. Partnering with others also helps nurture the community’s investment in your plans and ideas. Collaborations—also referred to as task forces, coalitions, steering committees, advisory committees, or working groups—enable members of partnering agencies and organizations to achieve something together that they cannot do alone.

It takes hard work to cultivate and maintain collaborative relationships, and you or your potential partners may have questions about the collaborative process, such as—

  • How do organizations benefit from working together?

  • Where does an organization find partners dealing with similar issues?

  • Who should be involved?

  • What is expected from each collaborating partner?

Collaborations are forged and function in many ways. You may find other persons and organizations working on the same issues that you are, or you may decide to pool resources with partners in other fields to broaden the scope and perspective of your efforts. You may meet weekly, quarterly, or sporadically, depending on the timeline of your project and the schedules of the people involved. Some collaborators will consistently contribute to the progress of your effort, while others will fill a specific need or purpose and only contribute when their counsel or resource is needed.

The key to successful collaboration is to recruit partners that are willing to do what they can to help your project succeed. Look for persons and organizations that can contribute their own strengths and resources and that are interested in helping to guide your efforts.

Ideal collaborators for a project involving crime victims with disabilities include—

  • People with disabilities, as well as their friends and family members.

  • Disability service providers and rehabilitation professionals.

  • Victim advocates from domestic violence, sexual assault, and other service agencies.

  • Criminal justice personnel (law enforcement officers, forensic nurses, defense attorneys, probation officers, and judges).

  • Transportation and housing providers working with people with disabilities.

  • Representatives of government agencies that oversee services for people with disabilities (e.g., adult and child protective services, departments of mental health and human services, and disability-related commissions).

  • Other community stakeholders invested in the issues to be addressed.

The right collaborators are essential to creating community-based support networks and bridging gaps in service for crime victims with disabilities. Consider the experiences of the Promising Practices project subgrantees as they worked through the following steps of the collaborative process:

Build strong working relationships with other agencies and providers serving crime victims and people with disabilities.

Safe Passage, a domestic violence center in Western Massachusetts, initially chose to develop fewer but more intensive partnerships, targeting the local district attorney’s office; the Stavros Center for Independent Living, a disability service agency that eventually took over as lead subgrantee of the project; Everywomans’ Center, an anti-oppression/sexual assault center at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst; and the Freedom Center, run by and for people with mental health disabilities. The task force eventually recruited additional members, and persistently sought out and listened to crime victims with disabilities about their experiences with victim services.

Other subgrantees cast a wider net in recruiting partners. In developing its community coalition, the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA) in Tucson sent out 84 initial invitations to disability service organizations, as well as social service and crisis response agencies. Staff also developed a brochure inviting people with disabilities to participate in the project and distributed it to disability-related organizations and at community outreach events. A permanent group of 10 coalition members was formed, with an additional 85 interested professionals and people with disabilities participating in the group’s e-mail listserv.

A few subgrantees discovered that they could impact their communities most by joining existing coalitions. Ability1st, an independent living center for people with disabilities in Tallahassee, Florida, was invited to join a statewide domestic violence task force. Through this partnership, staff members were able to encourage many Florida domestic violence centers to consider improving access to domestic violence survivors with disabilities. Ability1st staff also joined local victim service task forces and community networking groups that involved city and campus police, the sheriff’s office, and the state attorney’s office, and lobbied within those groups to address the issues of disability and accessibility.

Conduct community outreach that not only expands the range of voices informing service provision, but also creates new outlets for disseminating information about available services.

The Chadwick Center for Children and Families in San Diego kicked off with a day-long SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) meeting that included disability service providers, criminal justice and victim service providers, and people with disabilities. The 30 participants discussed access to services for crime victims with disabilities, with the understanding that most community groups are overburdened, underfunded, and not inclined to pick up “extra” work. The meeting served as a nonthreatening forum for people to learn about the activities and objectives of organizations in the community, and to generate enthusiasm about promoting services for crime victims with disabilities. Individuals and organizations alike discovered common ground and began to network on their own, independent of grant activities. In retrospect, participants realized that the initial meeting had served as an important milestone in the community’s response to crime victims with disabilities.

A document outlining the group’s goals can help focus the efforts of a new partnership or advisory body, and ensures that all parties move forward with a common purpose. The bylaws drafted by Louisiana’s Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office to guide its Beyond the Barriers program offer a good example of this practice, as well as a goal-oriented approach to collaboration.

Lesson Learned: Collaboration requires adaptability.

In Pennsylvania, the Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA) planned to assess the accessibility of six police departments, in theory opening an avenue for dialogue about the results. However, staff realized that informing officers about the ways in which their services were not accessible could come across as criticism, and therefore was not the best first step to building those relationships. They decided instead to work on establishing a better relationship with each individual department prior to assessment so that officers would be more willing to make the changes proposed. NOVA first offered training and technical assistance, and later successfully conducted their accessibility assessments.


Needs Assessments: Listening to the Community

The opinions, experiences, and perceptions revealed by talking to community residents are perhaps the most critical feedback needed to improve local response to crime victims with disabilities. In this exchange lie the answers to innumerable questions, including why systems are overburdened, why some people don’t report being victimized, and why people with disabilities aren’t accessing existing crisis service agencies, along with innovative suggestions and solutions that were once elusive.

Common questions about the needs assessment process include the following:

  • What kinds of information can you get from an assessment?

  • What are the right questions for our constituency?

  • Who should be asked to respond, and are people comfortable with giving information?

  • Will the information collected be valuable?

  • How should an organization respond to assessment results?

The questions and answers generated by your community needs assessment hold the key to changing local systems that have been unresponsive to crime victims with disabilities. The process may seem daunting at first, but if you want information from your community, you have to go out and ask for it. Community members may not respond in the numbers or ways you expect, but they will respond. Compiling the right questions, choosing a format, and determining what incentive people need to reveal the information you seek is where the science of designing a good needs assessment comes in (and where your project steering committee can help).

The most important aspect of any assessment tool is its relevance to the person or organization being approached for information. Below are some common assessment methods and forms, and notes on the various ways subgrantees gathered information during the project.

Before using these survey tools, your organization should consider how it will protect the confidentiality of crime victims with disabilities who participate in the needs assessment. Promising Practices project staff established safeguards so that participants could make informed choices about whether to participate and how much information to share. For example, agencies developed consent forms to inform potential participants of their rights and responsibilities. These consent forms included information about the limitations of confidentiality in their state. In many states, individuals and agencies are required by law to report suspicions or knowledge of victimization of people with disabilities, as well as any intention by a participant to hurt him/herself or another person. Consent forms may also affirm—

  • That participation in focus groups, interviews, and surveys is voluntary. Participants can leave at any point, and can choose not to answer particular questions.
  • That participants’ names and any identifying information will not be disclosed in any reports. (Some agencies use pseudonyms in reports, while others ask participants to use only their first names.)
  • Options for finding emotional support if talking about a crime causes further emotional trauma.
  • The responsibility of participants not to disclose the names or comments of any other participants.

In the Promising Practices project, staff members also worked to reduce the potential dangers to crime victims who responded to surveys, questionnaires, and interviews. They were careful to mail surveys and questionnaires in packaging that would not arouse the suspicion of an abuser who might be living with the person with the disability. Individuals volunteering to participate in focus groups or interviews were prescreened to make sure they were safely able to participate (i.e., that participating would not put them in physical danger or cause them undue emotional distress). Counselors were available after focus groups and interviews to provide support and referrals to appropriate intervention services as needed.

Surveys

Surveys are the workhorse of the needs assessment toolbox because they can be used to gather information in writing, by phone, or online, depending on the format selected for reaching the target community. Here’s how the subgrantees used surveys in conducting their needs assessments:

Domestic violence, sexual assault, and other victim service organizations completed self-assessments to gauge their knowledge, attitudes, and comfort levels regarding working with crime victims with disabilities.

Police and law enforcement officers were asked about their experience investigating crimes that involve persons with disabilities, and their attitudes toward individuals with disabilities.

Project steering committee and coalition members provided case studies and anecdotal information about the experiences of crime victims with disabilities, whether due to domestic violence, sexual assault, or other types of abuse.

People with disabilities talked about their firsthand experiences in seeking support from community responders, particularly with victim service organizations and the criminal justice system.

Health care providers, prosecutors, disability service providers, and others shared their experiences with and attitudes about persons with disabilities.

NOVA’s key informant survey and law enforcement questionnaire, and the Partnership Against Domestic Violence’s (PADV) program survey, are good examples of ways in which data collection instruments were used during the project. SACASA’s protocols for consumer surveys and internal agency surveys also offer sample guidelines for structuring and conducting this kind of assessment activity.

Individual Interviews

Individual interviews can be used to gather the following:

  • Demographic information on crime victims with disabilities.

  • The perspectives and experiences of professionals working with crime victims with disabilities.

  • Information on how disability service organizations identify whether a client has been a victim of a crime.

  • Information on how various service agencies respond to suspicions or reports of a crime against a person with a disability.

  • Information about the readiness of victim service and criminal justice systems to provide accommodations and accessible services to crime victims with disabilities.

Lafourche Parish conducted individual key informant interviews with people with disabilities that focused on their experiences and expectations concerning local law enforcement and other service systems. Questions concerned crime reporting, knowledge of victim services, communication issues, and how local agencies could improve the ways they communicate information to people with disabilities. Safe Passage’s Handbook for Conducting Interviews offers detailed examples of processes and protocols involved in this kind of interpersonal data collection, from recruiting participants to conducting interviews to followup.

In addition to people with disabilities, the subgrantees interviewed law enforcement officers, domestic violence and sexual assault center personnel, state and county victim advocates, forensic nurses, physical therapists, hospital staff, personal care assistants, and disability service providers during the assessment process.

Focus Groups

Focus groups are useful assessment tools because they can help balance the need to keep the questions short and easy to respond to with the intent to learn as much about the issues as possible. People with disabilities, patrol officers, detectives, family violence task force members, prosecutors, disability service providers, and crime victim service providers participated in discussion forums during the grant project.

RCCCM held three “conversation groups” with people with disabilities about their experiences with personal safety and crime victimization. The organization gathered information about the community services these individuals received, the problems they encountered in accessing services, and their recommendations for how services could be improved.

See RCCCM’s telephone and interview screening process for conversation groups, SACASA’s consumer focus group and group screening protocols, and Ulster County’s focus group questions and ground rules for examples of instruments and processes used during the project to collect data from multiple subjects. The Chadwick Center’s information disclosure also provides a sample consent form used with focus group activities.

Lesson Learned: Follow the road if you want to find the roadblock.

Safe Passage coalition members used a mapping exercise to trace the path of a hypothetical crime victim with a disability through the local social service and criminal justice systems. This allowed them to explore each system’s strengths and gaps in service, and to quickly identify areas where better collaboration would improve the chances for successful intervention.

Several subgrantees contracted with other agencies to conduct their community needs assessments. In Illinois, the Carbondale Police Department contracted with Southern Illinois University’s Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development. In Pennsylvania, NOVA contracted with the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University. Teaming with university personnel gave these projects access to professionals with expertise in rehabilitation, strategic planning, research, and evaluation, which helped broaden their own efforts.

Whatever method you choose, make sure that your assessment instruments and processes are designed to—

  • Encourage and facilitate the participation of people with disabilities.

  • Reflect the community’s location, demographics, and culture.

  • Find the strengths and understand the weaknesses in existing law enforcement and crisis support systems.

  • Reveal disability-related barriers and gaps in services.

  • Identify additional resources and partnerships that can improve services to crime victims with disabilities.

Also, be sure to secure the proper consent from those participating in your data collection efforts. See the Chadwick Center’s informed consent (research), RCCCM’s informed consent (confidentiality), and Ulster County’s participation consent forms for examples of forms used during the project.


Making a Plan: Think Strategically, Act Accordingly

Creating and following a plan of action is important to achieving goals, both in terms of keeping a project on track and improving community response to crime victims with disabilities. Steering committees or other advisory bodies formed during the collaboration process should play an important role in planning, as should the results of the needs assessment.

Forming a plan can sometimes feel more like talking than taking action, but careful consideration and agreement among staff and advisers on a course of action is one of the hallmarks of successful collaborations. A solid plan for achieving your desired outcome helps ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the effort you are about to put forth. Common questions about the strategic planning process include the following:

  • How does strategic planning address ongoing needs?
  • Who in the organization should create the plan?
  • How comprehensive should the plan be, and for what length of time?
  • Who outside of the organization should be involved in planning?
  • Can the plan be modified or changed if new issues arise?
  • What if the plan doesn’t work?

There is much to consider when you are planning to change the way a community responds to its citizens. The following measures, although implemented in different ways, were common to each of the subgrantees’ strategic plans:

Define and address service barriers that impact crime victims with disabilities.

As noted previously in this toolkit and further detailed in the companion bulletin, people with disabilities often don’t report being victimized. NOVA learned in its needs assessment that people with disabilities in the area were most likely to report abuse or crime to their case managers in sheltered workshops or to other disability service providers. NOVA also learned that persons in those roles often struggled with how to handle such reports. In response to this realization, one of NOVA’s key strategic moves was to invite local law enforcement and case managers and other disability service personnel to a training seminar facilitated by staff from the Portland State University Regional Research Institute. The event highlighted the needs and issues of crime victims with physical disabilities, and opened the door for an interagency dialogue that continues today.

Other planning strategies focused on reaching out to people with disabilities through a variety of means, including brochures, Web sites, resource guides, public service announcements, self-empowerment classes, and educational programs that featured speakers with disabilities who were crime victims.

Partner with law enforcement to address issues such as crime reporting and forensic interviewing techniques when discussing a crime with a victim who has a disability.

The Carbondale Police Department and Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office worked within their agencies to schedule training for officers and civilian staff on best practices for working with crime victims with disabilities. However, some of the other subgrantees encountered resistance to their efforts to train the staff of local police or sheriffs’ departments. As outsiders to these professions, many subgrantees found that it took significant legwork and resources to develop a rapport with criminal justice representatives before they could convince them that learning to work more effectively with crime victims with disabilities was worth their time, and that they could best learn how to do so through the trainings the subgrantees were offering. Some groups had to get creative—paying stipends to law enforcement staff to attend the training offered or purchasing TTY equipment (a telephone device used to communicate with people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing) for police departments to enhance their accessibility to people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.

One strategic relationship between a subgrantee and a criminal justice agency led to a new way of working that combines the best practices of both organizations. The Chadwick Center for Children and Families worked with professionals in the San Diego criminal justice system to develop an extended assessment protocol for conducting forensic interviews with children and adults with developmental disabilities. The advisory committee for the project included detectives and prosecutors from local child abuse and sex crimes units, as well as child and adult protective services staff.

Building on the work of the National Children’s Advocacy Center, this extended assessment protocol included a pre-interview intake form that asked what accommodations the crime victim would need to address his or her disability (such as physical or communication-related accommodations) prior to the meeting. Professionals using the protocol reported that having accommodations in place often made a significant difference in how interviews were conducted. The process was not only more efficient but also increased the comfort level of the crime victim, and better communication frequently shortened the amount of time or number of sessions needed for the interview. Chadwick Center staff also partnered with a detective from the San Diego Police Department’s Sex Crimes Unit to conduct state and national training in using the protocol for law enforcement officers and child and adult protective services caseworkers.

Partner with victim service agencies and crisis service providers to ensure their support is accessible to people with disabilities.

An important part of the subgrantees’ strategic plans was to connect with other victim service organizations in their communities, including domestic violence and sexual assault response systems personnel, adult protective services caseworkers, and crime victim advocates. Each group provided community partners with technical assistance on accessibility and conducted training seminars on working with crime victims with disabilities and law enforcement.

PADV addressed a local lack of affordable and accessible long-term housing for domestic violence survivors with disabilities by forming housing collaborations in Atlanta and Athens, Georgia. In both locations, staff members met with domestic violence center staff, mental health care providers, and disability-related service providers who offer long-term care to women with disabilities. The meetings yielded strategies and resources to help move survivors with significant disabilities into safe, accessible, and lasting living situations. Cross-training between disability and housing groups also furthered the effort.

Lesson Learned: Accessibility begins at home.

When surveys indicated that people with disabilities did not consider their rape crisis services accessible, the staff of the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault realized their first strategy should be to make significant internal changes. The center stated its commitment to making reasonable accommodations to services, as requested by people with disabilities, by developing new accessibility procedures. It also established a grievance procedure for clients with disabilities who want to file a complaint concerning the center’s response to their request. The center then trained all its staff in how best to provide crisis intervention and other services to people with disabilities. It also moved into a building that provided easier access for people who have disabilities that affect their mobility.

Planning strategies can address both the needs of crime victims with disabilities and the challenges identified within the local service system and community. The strategic possibilities are endless if you are willing to get creative, collaborate with law enforcement and people with disabilities, and include community members with disabilities in the trainings and presentations you provide for victim service providers.

See NOVA’s Helping People with Disabilities: A Guide for Law Enforcement Officers and the Stavros Center’s Access to Equality Coalition for examples of outreach materials that demonstrate a clear strategic focus. Each was used to share information, open lines of communication, and create access to justice and service systems for crime victims with disabilities.


Implementing Your Plan

Your assessment is complete, your strategic plan is in place, and your collaborators are ready to begin work. Now you get to use the powerful tools your project has developed and the experience of your collaborators to start eliminating the barriers and closing the gaps you identified in your community’s local response to crime victims with disabilities.

You must have confidence in your strategic plan, but leave room to improvise as needed. Even the most detailed list of action items cannot account for every obstacle or issue a project will encounter when it is implemented. Consider the following questions to prepare yourself to handle unexpected impediments:

  • How can we leverage the partnerships and resources we have developed?

  • Are we using what we learned from the needs assessment?

  • How does our planning translate to positive action?

  • Which factors are most likely to spark change in local victim service organizations? In the community?

  • What are the best ways to disseminate information to law enforcement, service providers, and people with disabilities?

You may channel your knowledge and planning in myriad ways to improve community services and support for people with disabilities, as the project subgrantees have demonstrated. However, the most successful strategies were built upon the following implementation model:

  • Develop resources, curricula, and partnerships that can help local organizations bridge gaps in service and eliminate obstacles to assistance.

  • Provide disability-related training and technical assistance to local agencies.

  • Educate the community about the issues identified through the needs assessment.

  • Expand outreach efforts to people with disabilities.

Consider the examples of two project subgrantees who demonstrated how multiple strategic goals can be advanced by completing a few well-executed activities.

The Carbondale Police Department developed Protect and Serve, a training manual for working with people with disabilities that was pilot-tested at the Southern Illinois University Department of Public Safety and then used to train both departments. Protect and Serve was produced by the Carbondale Police Department in collaboration with members of its project task force, including the Southern Illinois University Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development, the Southern Illinois Center for Comprehensive Services, the Southern Illinois Center for Independent Living, Southern Illinois Regional Social Services, and Specialized Training for Adult Rehabilitation. In developing and disseminating this resource, the Carbondale Police Department solidified partnerships, created a new training opportunity with the potential to eliminate obstacles and gaps in service, and raised the community’s awareness of disability-related issues.

The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office also met multiple strategic goals by working with its project task force to develop and implement an 11-module curriculum on working with people with disabilities for its training academy. It also submitted the curriculum to the Police Officer Standardized Training system for use with deputies and police officers in 21 regional academies throughout Louisiana. In addition, the Sheriff’s Office developed two public service announcements equipped with closed captioning and a 15-minute video about the criminal justice process, the rights of crime victims with disabilities, how to access available services, and how crime victims with disabilities can participate in the criminal justice system.

Other subgrantees also found video to be a useful medium for training law enforcement personnel:

  • NOVA developed a 10-minute police roll-call training video that was distributed to all 44 law enforcement departments in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. NOVA recruited a police officer who was also an actor to portray a detective in the video.

  • PADV and its partners in Georgia developed a DVD and training manual for domestic violence programs that includes techniques for providing sensitive services to women with cognitive and mental health disabilities.

  • The Ulster County Crime Victims Assistance Program developed a 15-minute training DVD for law enforcement and human services professionals on working with survivors of crime who have disabilities. The DVD contains information on posttraumatic stress and evidence-based prosecution practices, and includes a crime victim panel featuring individuals with disabilities.

Other examples of successful strategies for eliminating gaps in service for people with disabilities, increasing accessibility, and improving services include the following:

  • RCCCM hired two deaf liaisons to monitor and improve access to local social services and medical, legal, and judicial systems.

  • The Chadwick Center developed and implemented training for San Diego’s Adult Protective Services system on conducting interviews with crime victims who have developmental disabilities. The center now regularly provides this training for all new protective services workers, as well as for personnel at Community Care Licensing, an agency that investigates allegations of abuse in any licensed care or educational facility, such as a preschool, group home, public or private school, or skilled nursing facility.

  • NOVA developed a handbook for disability service providers on how best to respond to disclosures from people with disabilities experiencing abuse. Staff also provided training on the same topics at facilities where people with disabilities live, sheltered workshops, and disability service organizations throughout the county.

  • The Ulster County Crime Victims Assistance Program made major structural changes to improve physical accessibility to its historic building, including modifying its bathrooms and installing an entrance ramp. The program also established regular group meetings with crime victims with disabilities to share information about resources.

  • SACASA developed and distributed a best practices handbook containing information about working with sexual violence survivors with disabilities. It was designed for law enforcement, shelters, independent living centers, legal systems, and sexual assault centers, and provides information about various disabilities, indicators of abuse, and best practices to follow in serving crime victims with disabilities.

  • PADV recruited women with disabilities to conduct onsite accessibility surveys at three domestic violence shelters (two in Atlanta and one in Athens) to identify barriers to their receiving services. PADV used the data collected to determine what equipment to purchase for the three programs, including flashing fire alarms, Braille signs, tactile signs for non-Braille readers, transfer equipment such as chair lifts, safety rails for bathrooms, and video phones.
Lesson Learned: To change the community, be part of the community.

The Carbondale Police Department budgeted for improvements to the entrance of the local domestic violence agency so that people with disabilities could physically access the services they need. The department also set up peer meetings every other week at an apartment complex that primarily houses people with disabilities. Each meeting featured a guest speaker, including police officers and first responders, a representative from the Attorney General’s office, mental health care professionals, and others who could demystify justice processes and speak about the issues involved in reporting a crime.

All subgrantees created and distributed various public awareness materials as part of their implementation activities, including refrigerator magnets, fliers, brochures, newsletters, palm cards, and resource guides to reach and educate professionals and people with disabilities about crime against this population. Some organizations even placed advertisements for people with disabilities on public transportation vans and buses, with a message about the assistance available through local agencies.

SACASA’s bus poster and consumer-oriented Accessing Safety and other program services brochures, the Carbondale Police Department’s Promising Connections newsletter, Safe Passage’s outreach booklet, and NOVA’s wallet card are all examples of public awareness materials developed to directly inform people with disabilities of the services available to them in their local communities.


Listening to the Community, the Sequel:
Project Evaluation

Thoughtful and focused project evaluation is an important aspect of service provision and is a valuable tool for measuring changes in systems, attitudes, and accessibility. Feedback from the people involved in your project—whether they are collaborators, community members, people with disabilities, other organizations, or those whose services you seek to improve—tells you what you need to know most: whether your efforts are working. Evaluation also helps determine if a project can be replicated in its current state or if further development is required.

Feedback can inform you of public perception and awareness of the agency or entity, accessibility of facilities and services, how programs and processes are working for those served, and the referral process to and from the organizations in question. When you ask for feedback, you run the risk that you will learn something you are not expecting or prepared to hear. However, a successful evaluation will also reveal the areas in which your group’s work is succeeding, changes that are being made, and how your project is affecting people’s lives. Questions that commonly arise when designing an evaluation strategy include the following:

  • Who should create and/or administer the evaluation?
  • What questions yield the most constructive feedback?
  • Who should be asked to respond (e.g., which organizations or individuals)?
  • Is verbal or written feedback preferable?
  • Is self-evaluation a valid tool?

It is often best to begin your evaluation by asking for feedback from individuals who use your services and those who do not, as well as peer organizations working with the population you serve. Determine what information will be most helpful to you and make it easy for the individuals and groups evaluating you to tell you what you need to know. Remember that a well-executed evaluation is invaluable to those who seek to improve, progress, and bring about positive change.

To assess progress in achieving the project’s goal of increasing crime victims with disabilities’ access to victim services and criminal justice systems, the 10 subgrantees examined the following core questions:

  • Is the project effective?
  • Is the project meeting its overall goals?
  • Are participants benefiting from their involvement?
  • Which project components are the most successful?
  • Is the project worth sustaining?
  • What changes or modifications are needed?
  • How can the project be more efficient with its resources?
  • Can the project be replicated in other communities?

The following examples illustrate some of the work done by the subgrantees to create and execute their evaluation plans, and the value of each step in the process:

Create an evaluation instrument that measures your project’s effectiveness, achievement of its goals, and benefit to its participants.

Carbondale Police Department staff reviewed all crime reports for indications that a victim had a disability, and the department’s victim advocate developed a survey to use during intakes with people with disabilities. This helped ensure that victims with disabilities received the strongest support possible during the crime reporting and victim service processes. In addition, the data obtained from the survey helped the department refer crime victims with disabilities to the community resources that would best meet their needs. The survey has since been used by other organizations in the Carbondale community, in forums such as group meetings and speaking events, to better coordinate service efforts to persons with disabilities. The information gathered helps identify crime victims who do not report their victimization to the police as well as those who have made a report but are not receiving the assistance they need.

Identify successful project components and those that need to change.

Process evaluation is a form of feedback that can evolve naturally in response to an unexpected barrier. That barrier may require an adjustment in direction, reconsideration of the original plan, or the realization that staff may choose to do things differently next time. At the beginning of the grant, project partners RCCCM and the Center for Living and Working (a disability service agency) held a cross-training session for staff from both organizations. In retrospect, RCCCM staff realize their time would have been better spent if all parties had gotten together beforehand to sort out basic issues such as differences in the agencies’ philosophies and terminology. (The word “client,” for example, is more accepted in crisis centers than in disability service agencies.)

When Ability1st staff suggested partnering with Florida churches to address victimization of people with disabilities, the faith community’s response was poor. Churches in rural counties were already overwhelmed by the needs of their members and the lack of community resources. In the more populated areas, no interest could be generated. In the third year of the project, Ability1st staff reviewed this strategy and shifted their focus more toward training law enforcement and coordinating services with domestic violence programs. The staff eventually discontinued their efforts to engage the faith community.

A few organizations, such as the Ulster County Crime Victim Assistance Program, struggled to interest local law enforcement organizations in training related to crime victims with disabilities. The county’s many law enforcement departments had various reasons for declining training, and staffing issues were frequently cited. In the second year of its project, Ulster County produced and distributed a training video for law enforcement, and hoped to reach greater numbers of officers by using a more versatile medium.

Law enforcement organizations encountered comparable difficulties when they attempted to partner with disability service organizations. The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office worked diligently to let local disability service providers and people with disabilities know that its staff were interested in increasing accessibility to crime reporting and victim service processes, but the initial response was poor. Officers were persistent, however, and eventually community members started to participate.

SACASA’s first major obstacle was the disability services community’s initial distrust of and unfamiliarity with the agency. However, as they began to work more closely with the center’s staff, community members realized that advocating for disability services and advocating against violence had much in common. Both initiatives are based on a model of empowerment and encourage people to exercise their rights and make their own choices. It took several months, however, for the partners to identify that common ground.

Lesson Learned: The best ideas are the ones that work.

The Ulster County Crime Victim Assistance Program developed a campaign featuring 60-second radio spots that encouraged listeners to call for confidential information about services for crime victims with disabilities. Although the public service announcements generated much positive feedback from the organization’s colleagues, they failed to increase referrals from people with disabilities, so the spots were eventually scrapped.

Create measures that reveal changes in knowledge, skills, behavior, attitude, or conditions for participants.

Subgrantees providing education or training measured changes in knowledge, skills, or attitudes about an issue through surveys. Some groups measured changes in awareness of issues concerning crime victims with disabilities by surveying trainees both before and after presentations. Project satisfaction surveys allowed clients with disabilities to give feedback on accessibility and other facets of the service provided, as well as the impact any assistance had on their situation or in their lives. Several organizations measured the increase in the number of crime victims with disabilities accessing victim services and the criminal justice system during the project.

Project staff from all 10 subgrantee organizations used training evaluations, feedback, and the results of their efforts to keep the spirit of change “front and center” in their work. They changed their plans and activities as needed; revised information, materials, and process; and refined their training styles. Some reworked the focus or direction of their project. All learned that patience and flexibility are often the keys to success, and to appreciate the small victories and life lessons that come with working for change.

In that spirit, SACASA designed the following three evaluation techniques to help it continually evolve and improve its services for sexual assault survivors with disabilities:

  • Every 120 days of service, clients of the center’s mental health crisis program are asked to fill out a questionnaire about their experience. People who identify themselves as having a disability are also asked about their experience with requesting or receiving accommodations. The center’s director of Mental Health Services reviews the questionnaires and relays feedback to program staff so they can modify their service delivery to better meet their clients’ needs.

  • Staff members who do not provide direct services are assigned to interview persons with disabilities about their experience with the center and its services.

  • The center’s Web site features a satisfaction survey with filters that allow the project to review data from respondents who self-identify as having a disability. The center also maintains a Web survey that allows people with disabilities to evaluate gaps in services in the community. This helps the center to measure the impact of sexual violence on this population and identify areas that need improvement.

Create specific outputs that quantify the work being done and outcomes that speak to the changes and progress made in addressing needs.

Outputs help a project measure both the rate and volume of work being done, as well as progress toward meeting established goals. Common examples of outputs used in projects like those described in this toolkit might include numbers of persons with disabilities served, training events conducted and number of people trained, outreach materials developed and distributed, community task force meetings held, or surveys completed by crime victims with disabilities. The 10 subgrantees developed the following strategies for measuring outputs:

  • Collect and analyze 50 surveys about experiences in crisis services and criminal justice from community members with disabilities, as part of ongoing project evaluation. (SACASA)

  • Provide 16 hours of training to 35 staff members to increase the capacity of all direct service staff to provide short-term emergency shelter and support to women with disabilities. (PADV)

  • Provide all cadets with 8 hours of training on responding to crime victims with disabilities and working with people with mental illness and cognitive disabilities. (Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office)

  • Convert 25 agency forms into Braille, large print, and audiotape. (SACASA)

  • Increase the working group’s membership to include five key targeted representatives working in housing, senior citizen, and protective service agencies. (Ulster County Crime Victims Assistance Program)

  • Train at least 25 people per quarter from law enforcement or the judicial system in how to work more effectively with and provide accommodations for crime victims with disabilities. (Ability1st)

  • Educate 40–60 victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or caregiver abuse on safety, rights, resources, and the dynamics and effects of abuse. (Safe Passage)

  • Train staff of at least five police departments, three hospitals, and two courthouses in how to better serve crime victims with disabilities. (RCCCM)

  • Provide training to 30 people with disabilities to increase their knowledge of crime, exploitation, abuse, and measures they may take to protect themselves, and to improve their understanding of law enforcement procedures. (Carbondale Police Department)

  • Cross-train and provide networking opportunities for 50 people with disabilities and professionals in criminal justice, investigative social work, mental health, medicine, crime victim service, and disability service through a day of training and networking. (Chadwick Center for Children and Families)

  • Develop 250 palm cards and distribute them to emergency first responders to use as a quick reference guide in a crisis and increase their knowledge of how to support survivors of abuse who have disabilities. (Stavros Center for Independent Living)

Outcomes are the expected results of project efforts. They measure more than a successful step or milestone in attaining a goal—they represent the true impact of project activities on the lives of people, and within organizations, systems, and communities. Outcomes of projects like the ones described in this toolkit are commonly given in percentages, whether related to persons served, conditions improved, crime reported, or knowledge increased. The 10 subgrantees developed the following methods for measuring their projects’ outcomes:

  • 85 percent of sexual assault center staff will report that they have an increased understanding of the issues surrounding sexual violence for people with disabilities, as measured by a training evaluation form. (SACASA)

  • 80 percent of sexual assault survivors with disabilities will report that they are satisfied with services provided to them by the sexual assault center, as measured by a client satisfaction survey. (SACASA)

  • 50 percent of law enforcement and judicial trainees will demonstrate increased knowledge of, awareness of, and sensitivity to the needs of crime victims with disabilities, as measured by a training evaluation form. (Ability1st)

  • 25 percent of officers attending training will show increased understanding of the issues and needs of crime victims with disabilities, as measured by training evaluations. (NOVA)

  • Data will show a 25 percent increase in the number of crime victims with disabilities who requested services within a 1-year period. (NOVA)

  • Data will show a 10–15 percent increase in hotline calls by crime victims with disabilities within the first year of operation of a 24-hour hotline. (Stavros Center for Independent Living)

  • At least 25 percent of crime victims with disabilities accessing social and civil service agencies and the criminal justice system will report that they reclaimed their self-respect and dignity, and felt empowered to make their own choices, as measured through client satisfaction surveys. (Safe Passage)

  • A 15–25 percent increase in the rate of reported prosecutions of perpetrators against crime victims with disabilities will be measured through police and district attorney’s office records. (Safe Passage)

  • 60 percent of shelter clients who have disabilities will report a successful transition from emergency shelter to their long-term living arrangement. (PADV)

  • 80 percent of police officers and hospital and courthouse staff who receive project-related training will indicate an increased awareness of the needs of crime victims with disabilities who access law enforcement services. (RCCCM)

Plan for Sustainability

Following the core steps of collaboration, assessment, planning, and evaluation can help organizations continue to meet ongoing needs and identify new focus areas within the communities they serve. Sustaining momentum after a project is over can be challenging, but to truly improve community response to people with disabilities, progress must sustain itself through the efforts of those it has touched. You should consider the following questions during the final phase of your project:

  • What happens to crime victims with disabilities when the project is over?

  • How can organizations continue to make progress in this area?

  • Can successful partnerships and collaborations be maintained over time?

  • Are local agencies ready to respond, or is more training and support needed?

  • Will this project have a lasting impact on the community without continued funding?

Relationships and collaborations can have a far-reaching impact on the communities they serve. The project may be over, but that does not mean you have to stop providing needed services, meeting with interagency task forces and committees, developing new alliances, or providing cross-training and targeted outreach to the people and agencies you are working with, or hope to work with in the future.

The work of the 10 subgrantees offers the following strategies to help you sustain your improved service to crime victims with disabilities:

Institutionalize changes first, and lead by example by making sure that programs and services for crime victims with disabilities are physically accessible and free of other obstacles.

The subgrantees focused on improving their own accessibility to victims of crime with disabilities by providing regular and ongoing training to staff and volunteers, making physical modifications, and crafting new protocols for providing accessible services. In addition to setting this example, projects also budgeted funds to assist other victim service and criminal justice agencies in becoming more accessible (such as conducting accessibility surveys of crisis centers and police departments, making structural changes to buildings, and purchasing equipment such as TTYs for communicating with deaf crime victims and grab bars for bathrooms in emergency shelters for individuals whose mobility is hindered by a disability).

Other suggestions for institutionalizing physical accessibility include the following:

  • Make outreach and public awareness materials available in alternative formats (e.g., in large print and Braille, and on cassette tape) and update them annually.

  • Move to an accessible building. (NOVA and SACASA)

  • Make an inaccessible historic building accessible with extensive architectural modifications. (Ulster County Crime Victims Assistance Program)

  • Create private office space for intake interviews in a disability service agency and develop a training module for new staff that includes information about the criminal justice system and awareness of the needs of crime victims with disabilities. (Ability1st)

Maintain relationships and continue to measure changes, successes, and barriers in accessibility to victim services and the criminal justice system.

Ongoing partnerships with law enforcement, victim and crisis services, and other entities involved in serving crime victims with disabilities are essential to preserving the progress you have made and to meeting new challenges to accessibility that arise. These alliances can also provide avenues for evaluation, funding, training, and outreach—all critical to keeping services accessible for people with disabilities.

The following examples from subgrantees’ sustainability plans illustrate some ways that work can extend beyond the life of a single project or initiative:

  • RCCCM will participate in a working group on assessing rape examination kits to develop protocols for accommodations for survivors with disabilities. The organization will also hold training and discussions with sexual assault nurse examiners to ensure that they continue to be sensitive and responsive to sexual assault survivors with disabilities.

  • The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office is developing memorandums of understanding with its steering committee members to provide more coordinated services in the criminal justice system for crime victims with disabilities. The “Parish Level Interagency Agreement for Crime Victims Services” will be modified specifically for each partner agency and will include agreements to cooperate in planning and training on victims’ rights and self-advocacy, sharing records and information (in compliance with all statutes governing confidentiality), and exchanging information and consultation support.

  • Ability1st staff developed a training toolkit to be marketed to the criminal justice system in their service area, and will hold a “Day of Training” event each October to educate various service providers on issues related to the victimization of people with disabilities.

  • The Chadwick Center for Children and Families will provide annual training to staff at Adult Protective Services in San Diego on responding to reports of sexual assault for crime victims with developmental disabilities. The center will also cosponsor a booth with the Family Justice Center during San Diego’s annual “Domestic Violence Rally,” where staff can hand out resource information about victims with disabilities, their needs, and the services available to them.

  • SACASA will provide “Sexual Violence 101” training to the Southern Arizona Sexual Violence Disability Coalition at least once a year.

Participating Organizations

Ability1st is a nonprofit independent living center based in Tallahassee, Florida. The organization has been providing services to crime victims with disabilities since 2001, and is the only organization with that level of expertise in the region. The center’s predominantly rural and low income service area includes 14 counties in the Florida panhandle.
850-575-9621
TTY: 850-576-5245

The Carbondale Police Department in Illinois has 60 police officers and 21 civilian employees. Carbondale is the social service, education, medical, retail, and tourism hub for the southern part of the state, and is the largest city in primarily rural Jackson County.
618-457-3200 ext. 435
TTY: 618-549-2121

The Chadwick Center for Children and Families at the Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California, provides forensic interviews, medical evaluations, trauma counseling, case management, and advocacy services. The center works with children and families with and without disabilities, as well as adults with developmental disabilities, who are victims of sexual or physical abuse or have witnessed domestic or community violence.
858-576-1700
TTY: 858-966-5831

The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office in Thibodaux, Louisiana, operates its Police Social Services section as a one-stop resource for crime victim advocacy, case management, counseling, crime prevention, and intervention services. The program houses Elderly Victim Services, the Crime Victims with Disabilities program, and a Domestic Violence Unit.
985-532-2808
TTY: 985-532-4204

The Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA) in Jamison, Pennsylvania, has provided comprehensive services to victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes in Bucks County since 1974. Its service area includes the surrounding areas of Philadelphia, New York City, and Trenton, New Jersey.
215-343-6543
TTY: 215-343-6299

Atlanta’s Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV) is the largest domestic violence program in Georgia. It provides a 24-hour crisis line, two emergency shelters, legal advocacy, survivor support groups, parenting and children’s programs, and community outreach programs. Its service area includes Athens and the surrounding rural counties.
404-870-9600
TTY: 404-873-1766 (Fulton crisis line)
TTY: 770-963-9799 (Gwinnett crisis line)

The Rape Crisis Center of Central Massachusetts (RCCCM), based in Worcester, serves 49 cities and towns in the central part of the state. It collaborates with other women’s antiviolence organizations to provide accessible services for people with disabilities, including 24-hour response for victims who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
508-852-7600
TTY: 888-887-7130 (hotline)

SafePlace is a nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas, that serves persons with and without disabilities who are survivors of domestic, sexual, or caregiver abuse. Its programs include a 24-hour crisis hotline and emergency shelter, as well as counseling, legal and hospital advocacy, an onsite school and daycare facility, training and technical assistance for professionals working with survivors of abuse, and public education efforts.
512-267-SAFE (7233)
TTY: 512-482-0691

The Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA) in Pima County, Arizona, is the largest provider of sexual violence services in the state and the only organization that provides a full range of sexual violence-related services in Arizona.
520-327-1171
TTY: 520-327-1721 (crisis line)

The Stavros Center for Independent Living in Amherst, Massachusetts, has been actively advocating for the civil rights of individuals with disabilities since 1974 and is one of the oldest independent living centers in the country. Through a partnership with Safe Passage, a Northampton-based agency offering services, advocacy, and shelter to women, men, and children who have experienced domestic violence, the center serves three counties in Western Massachusetts, including rural Hampshire County.
413-256-0473

The Ulster County Probation Department Crime Victims Assistance Program is a comprehensive victim services provider located in Kingston, New York. Its large service area includes the Catskill Mountains and a number of towns and cities in upstate New York, many separated by bodies of water and remote rural areas. The program offers 24-hour on-call response to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
845-340-3443
TTY: 845-334-8126


Resources

Glossary

The following terms help define the issues addressed in this toolkit:

Disability is the presence of a physical, emotional, or mental difference in functional ability that substantially limits a person’s capacity to engage in the major activities of everyday life. A person’s ability to see, walk, speak, hear, move, learn, or otherwise function may be challenged due to a disabling condition or circumstance. Some disabilities affect a person’s ability to work, think clearly, provide self-care, communicate, drive, or interact with others, which can be isolating. Violent crime can sometimes result in a disability, whether physical or emotional in nature. Discrimination and inaccessibility are also factors that can contribute to the effects of a disability, especially when they lead to physical barriers or policies that prevent people with disabilities from enjoying the same places and experiences as their peers without disabilities. Some people prefer to define disability in a societal context, arguing that failure to provide an accommodating environment creates barriers and disabling circumstances for the person seeking access.

Accessibility describes the level of physical access people with disabilities have to landscapes, buildings, and places, or the ease with which they can get the services and support they need. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) set access standards for states, cities, businesses, housing providers, transportation systems, and others serving the public. However, barriers remain:

  • Architectural barriers such as curbs, stairs, broken sidewalks, narrow doorways, high counters, or construction can keep crime victims with disabilities from physically reaching law enforcement agencies or victim assistance programs.

  • Attitudinal barriers can be just as limiting. Intake workers, police officers, and first responders who have problems communicating with or understanding the needs of people with disabilities may have problems providing the appropriate support or services, and might overlook a critical request for help.

Accommodations for persons with disabilities address all kinds of barriers. They range from increasing physical access (e.g., curb cuts, ramps, wheelchair lifts, open designs, doorknobs with accessible handles, hallways and footpaths that are free of clutter, and waiting rooms, meeting rooms, and restrooms that are wheelchair accessible); to improving communication (providing materials in Braille and large print and on tape; having a telecommunication device so that deaf and hard-of-hearing people can use the phone (usually referred to as a TTY) and access to sign language interpreters; to improving staff knowledge and attitudes (e.g., allowing longer interviews with people who have cognitive disabilities, letting a survivor with mental illness set the pace of goals, and being aware of disability etiquette issues).

Victim describes someone who has had a crime committed against them, or who has experienced physical, psychological, or emotional abuse. The term is applied to people with and without disabilities, but can also have stigmatizing connotations in certain contexts. For instance, calling a person a “victim of their disability” reflects an outdated way of thinking about the person and the barriers he or she faces. A disability is something a person has, not the sum of who they are. Similarly, many domestic violence and sexual assault advocates prefer the term “survivor” to “victim” because it focuses on the person, not the act perpetrated against them. However the term is applied, it is important to understand that victimization is the result of a harmful and/or unlawful act, not a reflection of the character or actions of the person who has experienced a crime.

Samples

Brochures and booklets

Newsletters and other print materials

Assessment instruments, guidelines, and protocols

Forms

Related Products

The OVC-funded materials listed here are available for use by organizations and agencies working to address the needs of crime victims with disabilities in local communities.

Project resources

Department of Justice resources

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