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CRS Facilitates Virtual Dialogue to Address Hate Crimes Against Disability Community

Protesters at a rally for disability rights
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In the fall of 2020, CRS facilitated a virtual dialogue at The Arc’s annual convention on creating safe and inclusive communities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The conversation featured leaders in law enforcement and the disability community discussing how hate crimes and bias incidents affect persons with disabilities and strategies to help address and prevent hate crimes. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 157 hate crime incidents based on disability were reported in 2019, a 35% increase from 2017.

During the session, law enforcement officials provided background information on hate crimes and emphasized the importance of reporting bias incidents and hate crimes to local police. They encouraged individuals to report incidents that may not reach the level of crimes, so law enforcement can use them to inform their work. “We use those incident reports to evaluate emerging trends going on in our neighborhoods and if we need to reassign resources to something that looks like an emerging trend,” said Tricia Sibley, a special agent in the FBI Houston office who spoke during the dialogue. “Knowing what’s going on in our communities is important to us.”

However, advocates for the disability community who also spoke during the dialogue said that many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) still face challenges in reporting these incidents. “In general, the stigma that people with IDD still face is an issue,” said Leigh Ann Davis, director of criminal justice initiatives at The Arc. Ms. Davis said that many police departments and victim advocates need education on how to provide proper accommodations for people with disabilities. She said that as a result, many people with disabilities may not be able to report crimes and are unable to access crime victim services.

CRS’s Bias Incidents and Hate Crimes forums can help educate community members on hate crime laws and resources and help communities prevent and respond more effectively to disability-related bias and hate crimes. These forums encourage federal and local law enforcement, district attorneys, and community advocacy organizations to share information and discuss methods to combat and respond to bias incidents and hate crimes.

Advocates also said police departments can help support victims by building better relationships with the disability community and understanding individuals’ needs. “On top of the cultural sensitivity and cultural competency that’s needed, you have to have empathy,” said Marlene Sallo, executive director of the Disability Law Center in Massachusetts. “You have to stop and assess the situation and take it in as you approach someone and have to have the ability to communicate with the person and not just rush.”

CRS can help support this relationship building by providing strategies and best practices to law enforcement officials, first responders, and service providers to ensure respectful interactions with community members with disabilities and prevent misunderstandings.

Ms. Davis says that training, such as one The Arc offers, can help law enforcement better work with the disability community, but they need to move beyond that to be effective. “One of the things that we know well is that training alone probably isn’t going to change long-term issues,” she said. The Arc has engaged with police departments that have built disability response teams that look at where police are not providing accommodations or there is a lack of communication and work with the community to address those issues. Grants from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance supported the development of The Arc’s training and the Pathways to Justice initiative that includes the training.

According to Luby Ismail, a cultural competence trainer, it is ultimately up to people without disabilities to use their power and access to improve the lives of those with disabilities. “We need a sense of allianceship; we need people to be more of an ally,” she said during the dialogue.

CRS works with communities responding to alleged bias incidents or hate crimes based on disability to create sustained methods for preventing and resolving future conflicts. In addition to Bias Incidents and Hate Crimes forums and best practice sharing, CRS can also convene meetings with law enforcement, local leaders, and disability advocates.

CRS conciliation specialists work directly with communities to help identify services that best meet their needs. To learn more about CRS services and how to get in touch with your local office, visit

More Information

Addressing Conflict Based on Disability (PDF)

Updated May 11, 2023