OVW Celebrates Disability Pride Month

July 26, 2022

Thirty-two years ago, Congress passed the Americans With Disabilities Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. It’s an important law upholding our nation’s civil rights – and it is why we commemorate Disability Pride Month in July. This month is a powerful reminder about the importance of disability rights and why, as a federal partner of the anti-violence movement, we celebrate people with disabilities and honor all the achievements the community has accomplished. The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) reaffirms our commitment to ensuring access and inclusion while rejecting all forms of ableism.    

At OVW, we recognize the survivors and advocates who are building responses to address the unique struggles that people with disabilities face every day in the criminal justice system. While there are limited statistics available, we know that people with disabilities are at least three times more likely to be victims of violent crimes than those without disabilities. These crimes are often underreported – only 19% of rapes or sexual assaults against people with disabilities are reported to police, compared to 36% of those against people without disabilities. Survivors with certain disabilities are more susceptible than others to violent crime, such as those with intellectual or cognitive disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, or more than one disability.

Survivors with physical and cognitive disabilities, as well as hearing loss, can face insurmountable barriers if the justice system and service organizations are not equipped to meet them where they are and provide accessible services. Only 12% of victims of violent crimes with disabilities receive support from victim service organizations. Communities deserve access to crisis line workers who are familiar with text telephone (TTY) or video relay service (VRS) technology, and American Sign Language interpreters trained in the dynamics of domestic violence and sexual assault. Further, survivors benefit when there are strong multidisciplinary collaborative relationships among service providers, law enforcement, and the court systems.

That is why community organizations dedicated to helping survivors who are disabled are so important. Through our Training and Services to End Violence Against Disabilities Grant Program, OVW provides support to programs and community networks working closely to center the needs of survivors and address the unique – and sometimes compounding – challenges they face. Grantees work across the spectrum: they provide disability-competent care that recognizes and treats each individual as a whole person; they implement services with assistive technology that aids mobility, hearing, and sight; and they educate community networks about how to better serve survivors.

Here are just a few examples of the work being done by OVW grantees through our Disability Program:

  • The Journey Center for Safety and Healing in Cleveland, Ohio, utilized OVW funding to provide support for victims with hearing loss during court proceedings, legal appointments, weekly support groups, and employment assistance. The organization also promoted awareness at major events in the community, and provided Cleveland first responders with tools to effectively communicate with victims who are disabled or Deaf.
  • Domestic Violence Intervention Services in Oklahoma hired a project coordinator who specializes in working with victims who have hearing loss. Staff members learned basic sign language and say they are more comfortable helping clients who are Deaf.
  • Disability Rights Washington, based in Seattle, worked with community partners to build policies and procedures to support survivors with disabilities or hearing loss. The organization has also been able to identify problems and assist survivors who live in long-term care facilities.

During July, we celebrate these successes and accomplishments while also acknowledging the critical need to reach more survivors with disabilities. Grantees tell us they want to be more accessible to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking who have physical disabilities, improve communication with survivors who are cognitively impaired, work more closely with guardians of adult survivors who are disabled, and provide additional services to survivors who have severe mental illness and/or abuse substances. They want to offer more community education and outreach, create awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault services that are available for people with disabilities, educate people with intellectual disabilities about sex, consent, and healthy relationships, and much more.

We’re eager to do our part. As we mark the 32nd anniversary of the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act and celebrate Disability Pride Month, OVW is proud to partner with those champions broadening access to services and tirelessly advocating for survivors.

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Updated July 26, 2022