Seeking Safety in an Inaccessible World: Supporting Survivors with Disabilities in our Community

We do not live in a world with universal design. That means that for many members of our community, participating in basic activities like commuting to work or accessing public services are not as simple as it is for others. Survivors of domestic violence who have disabilities experience additional barriers to safety and service because of their unique experience of abuse and the lack of access in our community. 

We know that domestic violence can happen to anyone. But individuals with disabilities are more likely to experience abuse at the hands of a partner or caregiver. People who abuse often look for what they perceive to be vulnerabilities to perpetrate harm. For survivors with disabilities, this often means using their disability to increase isolation, engage in severe gaslighting, and escalate abuse.

We also know that survivors face barriers to seeking support, and for individuals with disabilities, there are additional and unique challenges. Some of the strategies that are available to other survivors to safety plan may not be an option, such as getting in a car and driving to a safe location if a situation escalates. For survivors who are reliant on a caregiver, it is very common for people who abuse to fill that role. In this situation, it might be difficult for a survivor to imagine how to get their basic needs met if they leave or if they’re partner finds out that they are seeking support. Finding accessible transportation may be a challenge. Entering a community organization’s office may not be possible, or as easy, without readily available interpretation or accessibility solutions for individuals with physical disabilities. And finding support people who are knowledgeable about both domestic violence and specific disabilities could prove difficult. 

That’s why organizations like ours need to work to be as accessible as possible for all survivors and provide community education to help decrease barriers to support and safety. Safe Passage demonstrates our commitment to increasing accessibility for all survivors through our fully accessible buildings, staff training to increase skills for serving survivors with disabilities and using accessibility tools, and multiple options for contacting us and receiving support. 

But most of all, we listen. We believe. And we work together with survivors, using our shared creativity and problem solving skills, to ensure survivors facing barriers to support due to their disability can access the services that they need.

Where to find help:

If you or someone you know has a disability and is experiencing violence, Safe Passage is here for you. We know that calling for the first time can be scary or overwhelming, but our hotline team is uniquely trained to help support you and any specific needs you may have to access our services. Our Disability Counselor Advocate is also reachable by calling 413-586-1125 ex 17. 

How you can help:

Community members have an active role to play in supporting survivors with disabilities. Here are some basic steps you can take to be a community ally to the people in your lives:

  • Know your resources! Share this information with people in your life that might need it. Let them know that Safe Passage is here, how we can help, and how to get in touch with our services.
  • Stay Connected. Especially because of added isolation for survivors with disabilities it is even more essential that you check in with your loved ones and ask about how you can be helpful.
  • Believe and validate. It is difficult to share an experience of violence or abuse with others, especially if an abuser uses a survivor’s mental health of disability to make them question their reality. Be prepared to listen to, believe, and validate survivors who share their story with you.
  • Be an accessibility ally. Help to increase accessibility for all by advocating for change in your environments when you notice a lack of accessibility. 
  • Be helpful (with permission). Ask about things you can do to be a helpful resource to survivors in your life and follow their wishes. Something as simple as sitting with someone while they make the initial call to our hotline or calling us in advance to ask about accessibility options on their behalf might be a huge help in ensuring a survivor gets connected to additional support. But make sure that you are respecting the decisions and boundaries of the person and checking in before taking any action on their behalf!