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An Online Resource Library on Gender-Based Violence.

Abuse and Women with Disabilities

NRCDV Publications
General Material
Published Date
February, 1998

Prevalence of Abuse among Women with Disabilities

  • Sixty-two percent of a national sample of women with physical disabilities reported having experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. The same percentage of a comparison group of women without disabilities reported abuse, but the women with disabilities had experienced abuse for longer periods of time.
  • The most common perpetrators of abuse were husbands and parents for both women with and without disabilities. Women with disabilities, however, were significantly more likely to experience emotional and sexual abuse by attendants and health care workers.
  • In addition to the types of abuse experienced by all women, women with physical disabilities are sometimes abused by withholding needed orthotic equipment (wheelchairs, braces), medications, transportation, or essential assistance with personal tasks, such as dressing or getting out of bed.
  • Others have reported a history of sexual abuse among 25% of adolescent girls with mental retardation, 31% of those with congenital physical disabilities, 36% of multihandicapped children admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and 50% of women blind from birth.

Interventions for Abused Women with Disabilities

  • There have been no studies that examine the existence, feasibility, or effectiveness of abuse interventions for women with disabilities.
  • Women with disabilities face serious barriers to accessing existing programs to help women remove violence from their lives. In both the disability rights movement and the battered women's movement, it is generally acknowledged that programs to assist abused women are often architectually inaccessible, lack interpreter services for deaf women, and are unable to assist women who need assistance with daily self care or medications.

Recommendations for Research and Program Development

  • Make shelters for battered women fully accessible, including barrier-free access to sleeping rooms and common areas, architectural features that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, visual and auditory alarm systems, and TDDs for telephone communication.
  • Make all services offered by battered women's programs (e.g., hot lines, individual counseling, support groups) fully accessible and integrated for women with disabilities.
  • Provide, or refer to, legal assistance for obtaining restraining orders and managing court systems which is accessible to women with disabilities.
  • Keep statistics on the number of women with disabilities who call crisis hot lines or use other program services.
  • Assist and encourage police in recording disability status in their crime reports, as well as encouraging adoption of a separate category for perpetrators who are caregivers.
  • Offer training to disability-related service providers, including independent living centers and churches, on recognizing the symptoms of abuse and the characteristics of potential batterers. They should be familiar with, and able to refer to, resources for battered women in their community.
  • Train staff on how to communicate with persons who have hearing, cognitive, speech, or psychiatric impairments. They should understand environmental barriers faced by women with physical and sensory disabilities when offering advice or referrals for obtaining shelter.
  • Have on hand an extensive network of community referrals and contact numbers, including volunteers or other community resources for obtaining personal assistance.
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