• Becca W.

Domestic Abuse and Disability


March is National Disabilities Awareness Month, and this observance is a fitting time to reflect on the intersection of disability and domestic abuse. People with disabilities may be affected by domestic violence differently than people without disabilities and survivors can face additional barriers when seeking help. Victims of domestic violence often experience similar types of abuse, including threats and intimidation, isolation, gaslighting, and physical, sexual, and emotional violence. However, disabled people can be abused using tactics that are specific to their disabilities. This is particularly challenging when the abuser is also a caretaker.


Examples of tactics that an abuser may use to harm someone with a disability include:

  • Withholding or forcing medication and/or healthcare [1]

  • Limiting access to or destroying assistive devices, like mobility devices or assistive hearing devices

  • Using legal guardianship to control finances

  • Forgoing personal/hygienic caretaking duties

  • Sexually assaulting someone while changing or bathing them

  • Verbal abuse that is specific to someone’s mental health diagnosis, such as calling a person with chronic depression “lazy” or “overly emotional”

  • Threatening to abandon the survivor, leaving them without care

  • Threatening or harming service animals [2]


Barriers to Seeking Support

In addition to distinct experiences of domestic violence, disabled survivors also face additional barriers to seeking help. Disabled survivors are particularly vulnerable to isolation, a common element of domestic violence. A lack of accommodating transportation and accessible buildings makes leaving home and getting into community more difficult for survivors with physical disabilities. Deaf, Deaf/Blind, and hard of hearing survivors may not have access to interpreters when needed.

If a person is experiencing abuse from someone who provides essential care, they may be find it especially challenging to leave. Research suggests that, on average, disabled survivors experience abuse one year longer than non-disabled survivors before seeking help. [3]


Even when survivors with disabilities do seek help, they are sometimes not taken seriously and seen as unable to advocate for themselves, so their reports are not believed. In some cases, survivors are believed but appropriate accommodations aren’t considered. For example, survivors who use mobility devices may need to stay in a shelter with elevator access which may limit their options for safety.


The Right to Accessible Services

Ultimately, disabled survivors deserve to access support that is inclusive and accessible. At Sojourner, we know many of our clients or their children have disabilities. Our advocates work hard to make safety plans that are reflective of the specific needs of all our clients and both of Sojourner’s buildings are equipped with elevators. Further, we believe in calling attention to the experiences of disabled survivors of domestic abuse to further our mission – supporting the journey from fear to hope.


If you or someone you know has a disability and is experiencing domestic violence, we encourage you to reach out to Sojourner via our 24/7 Crisis Line (952-933-7422). If you’re interested in learning more about or supporting disability advocacy, check out these organizations:


ThinkSelf MN

Minnesota Disability Law Center



*The Americans with Disabilities Act classifies a disabled person as “as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.” [4] While this definition is affirming for some people, it is also important to note that it does not fully capture the experiences of people with disabilities. Disabilities that may not meet this criteria include certain mental illnesses and chronic illnesses, though some people with these illnesses identify as disabled. Conversely, some people who fit this definition may choose not to identify as disabled. It is ultimately the choice of the individual to decide whether they claim disabled as an identity.

[1] https://www.apa.org/topics/disabilities/women-violence [2] https://www.ywca.org/wp-content/uploads/Survivors-w-Disabilities-Fact-Sheet.pdf [3] https://safelives.org.uk/knowledge-hub/spotlights/spotlight-2-disabled-people-and-domestic-abuse [4] https://www.ada.gov/pubs/adastatute08.htm#12102


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