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Promising Practices for Serving Crime Victims With Disabilities Toolkit
Publication Date: October 2008
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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.

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Brochures and booklets

Newsletters and other print materials

Assessment instruments, guidelines, and protocols


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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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