Office for Victims of Crime
Community-level Replication Guide
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Multidisciplinary Response to Crime Victims With Disabilities Community Guide

This guide walks you through a seven-step model for improving your community's capacity to respond to crime victims with disabilities:

Every step in the model, which was originally developed by SafePlace of Austin, Texas, and was replicated by three pilot sites, is designed to change your response to crime victims with disabilities permanently. If you follow each step, you will—

About This Guide
Purpose of This Project

OVC funded two grantees under the Multidisciplinary Responses to Crime Victims with Disabilities cooperative agreement to replicate their innovative models for improving the quality of services provided to crime victims with disabilities, increasing their access to the criminal justice system, and helping to track the number of crimes against persons with disabilities. One grantee focused on a statewide replication model (see State-Level Replication Guide). The other grantee—SafePlace, a domestic violence and rape crisis center in Austin, Texas—focused on a community-level replication model, which is the topic of this guide.  

OVC and SafePlace issued a nationwide RFP (request for proposal) seeking local victim service agencies that wanted to become pilot sites for replicating SafePlace's model. Each of the three agencies chosen developed an advisory committee, conducted a needs assessment, developed and implemented a community plan for tracking crimes against persons with disabilities, increased accessibility for persons with disabilities in their own agencies, provided outreach and education to persons with disabilities and service providers, and created strategic, evaluation, and sustainability plans. While each pilot site followed these specific tasks, each also approached the project differently, modifying the model to fit its particular community. SafePlace administered the project, provided subgrants, and offered training, resources, materials, guidance, and technical assistance.

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Using This Publication

This publication serves as a brief how-to guide for organizations seeking to improve their community responses to crime victims with disabilities. The material is presented in sequence, one step at a time, for ease of replication. Tasks and resources specific to each step are included.

The guide also offers tips and recommendations from the pilot sites, which sought change within their own organizations and communities in order to provide better services, conduct outreach, and track crimes against persons with disabilities. Although much of SafePlace's outreach has focused on persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the pilot sites worked with a wide variety of persons with disabilities and with people who are Deaf.

The three pilot site agencies were domestic violence and/or sexual assault centers, so this guide is written largely from their perspective and experience. However, the information and strategies provided here are designed to benefit a wide range of groups and individuals, including but not limited to the following:

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Participating Organizations

SafePlace, a nonprofit agency in Austin, Texas, was created in 1998 with the merger of the local domestic violence and rape crisis centers. SafePlace's mission is to end sexual and domestic violence through safety, healing, prevention, and social change. In 1996, 2 years before the merger, the rape crisis centers had established a nationally recognized disability services program to educate persons with disabilities about sexual violence prevention and sexuality. Two years later, the program broadened its focus to include domestic and caregiver violence. As national attention on this issue grew, the disability services program began providing consultation and training to other service providers throughout the Nation in developing protocols and community partnerships and in increasing staff members' skills for providing accessible services. To date, SafePlace staff have provided training and education to more than 50,000 professionals around the state and Nation as well as to persons with disabilities, people who are Deaf, and family members.

The three pilot sites follow:

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OVC would like to acknowledge the following people and organizations for their contributions to this project and the replication guide:

This replication guide was developed using a number of resources created by SafePlace, and others as noted, under the direction of OVC staff and the OVC Training and Technical Assistance Center, which assists victim service providers, advocates, and other allied professionals in learning new skills and adopting best practices that will enhance their abilities to provide quality victim services.

NCJ 239108

This product was supported by cooperative agreement number 2007–VF–GX–K037, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) provides federal leadership in developing the Nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP has six components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking. More information about OJP can be found on its Web site.

U.S. Department of Justice
Eric H. Holder Jr., Attorney General

Office of Justice Programs
Mary Lou Leary, Acting Assistant Attorney General

Office for Victims of Crime
Joye E. Frost, Acting Director

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Reasons To Act

Crime statistics related to persons with disabilities are sobering:

In addition, persons with disabilities and people who are Deaf are less likely to receive assistance from victim services or the criminal justice system in the aftermath of abuse or assault.

Considering some of the civil rights strides persons with disabilities have made in the past two decades, it is all the more troubling that crime rates remain high and discrepancies in service persist. But persist they do, in part because of the following:

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Step 1. Partnering

For me the highlight was the level of cooperation with the police departments we worked with and their willingness to sit at the table and proceed. What we share is a caring about the issue and a respect from both sides.
—Lois Galgay Reckitt
Family Crisis Services, Portland, Maine

It takes many people working together to create lasting change in a community. All of the steps in this project are important, but investing time on this first one—developing partnerships with others committed to this work—lays a strong foundation for improving services to crime victims with disabilities. Developing connections with the right partners from the start can make all the efforts to follow easier and more effective.

Step 1 involves the following tasks:

Note: Unless otherwise specified, the terms "partner" and "partnership" refer to project partners and could include members of collaborative partnerships or advisory committees.

Determine the Type of Collaboration
tipsTips From the Field

Don't assume that all potential partners share the same philosophy or level of experience on issues. When a person with a disability reported not feeling welcome or safe in an advisory committee, one pilot site realized that its partners needed training on how to treat each other's opinions with mutual respect.

Depending on the time you have available and existing community relationships, you may want to develop collaborative partnerships, a formal advisory committee, or both.

Each pilot site approached this task differently. One focused on creating strong core partners who also provided feedback on strategy and functioned in advisory committee roles; one developed a basic advisory committee but relied much more heavily on partners; and the third developed both strong partnerships and a separate, fully active advisory committee. In each case, the sites worked to find people who could best promote change in their own agencies and the community.

Identify Potential Partners

Consider which groups and people are already involved or have a stake in improving your community response to crime victims with disabilities. First on that list would be persons with a range of disabilities, followed by family members and representatives from organizations such as disability services, law enforcement, victim services (including domestic violence and rape crisis agencies), court systems, and hospitals that conduct forensic sexual assault exams.


tipsTips From the Field

It goes without saying, but we'll say it anyway: To improve services for victims with disabilities, persons with disabilities need to be at the table sharing their insight and experiences.

The pilot sites began by seeking out new alliances and strengthening old ones, but each approached the task differently, depending on the strength and diversity of its existing networks:

tipsTips From the Field

In considering potential partners, seek to reflect your own community's diversity. As much as possible, include people who vary in age, disability, background, gender, income level, culture, and ethnicity.
tipsTips From the Field

Allow various options for participating. Advisory committee members or partners who are not able to attend every meeting—or even very many meetings—may still be able to contribute resources and ideas by e-mail or phone.

Before approaching potential partners, know why the issue of crime against persons with disabilities affects them, recognize the impacts they can have, and understand some of the barriers in the community. Arm yourself with information so that you can speak clearly about the issues and the steps your community might take.

The pilot sites found their collaborative partners and advisory committee members from the following groups:

  • Persons with various disabilities and people who are Deaf who are interested or experienced in the issue, including crime victims with disabilities.
  • Survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • Additional domestic violence, sexual assault, and other victim service agencies.
  • Disability and Deaf service and advocacy agencies and groups, including a Governor's Council on People with Disabilities, a state developmental disabilities council, independent living centers, legal advocacy groups for persons with disabilities, and a brain injury association.
  • Medical providers, including a medical center's social work department, a psychiatric emergency services program, and sexual assault nurse examiners.
  • Criminal justice and legal service organizations, including a statewide nonprofit legal clinic serving crime victims, a county prosecuting attorney's office, and police departments.
  • A multidisciplinary team that included members from county and city criminal justice and law enforcement offices, a domestic violence center, a faith-based organization, and the department of corrections.
  • State victim service coalitions.

It also can be useful to include parents and family members of persons with disabilities as your partners and advisory committee members.

Plan to discuss a tentative meeting schedule (e.g., biweekly, monthly, or quarterly), the types of input and experience you are looking for, and the goals you are trying to accomplish. Then, after you have made a list of potential partners, you are ready to begin recruiting through individual meetings or phone calls.

Build Buy-In Through Meetings

The pilot sites had funding to do this work and therefore led the way in their communities. Without specific funding, the leadership duties of your project may be shared between partners. If you have done most of the footwork to bring the partners together, lead the first meeting. Tell the group that everybody in the room was invited because they share an interest in improving the lives of crime victims with disabilities and that you have agreed to conduct this first meeting and possibly others until the membership has defined their purpose and set achievable goals. Ask for their input about sharing leadership.

At the first meeting, discuss roles and expectations. Work to gain solidarity on a basic vision—even if it's as simple as making the community more accessible to crime victims with disabilities. Think about how to increase ownership among the group and how to gain commitment for a reasonable amount of short- and long-term outcomes.

Discuss partners' reasons for being part of the project and what they feel they can contribute. Include a checklist of the knowledge and skills that will be valuable to the project, such as having an extensive network of contacts, writing or editing skills, organizational skills, knowledge about the issues, firsthand experience working with victims, training/presentation skills, and so forth.

tipsTips From the Field

If all outcomes are long term, partners may fade away and the project will lose momentum. Similarly, too many outcomes can cause energy and effort to become so dispersed that true achievements are rare. An achievable blend of short- and long-term outcomes can keep partners engaged and the project successful.

To make your meetings more effective—

Keep your partners informed and involved every step of the way. Encourage them to provide you with ideas and feedback at any time, not just when everyone gets together. Bring people into the project as full and valued participants if you want them continually invested in the group's vision and goals. Following are some ways to do this:


Community Engagement: Brief Overview of Data Collection Methods. Provides succinct information about developing focus groups, key informant interviews, community forums, public hearings, and surveys.

Facilitating Meetings: A Guide for Community Planning Groups. Addresses issues facing community planning groups, including opposition and disagreement.

Group Facilitation and Problem-Solving, The Community Tool Box. Describes how to conduct effective meetings and develop facilitation skills and techniques for leading group discussions.

Making the Meeting Accessible. Covers access issues in planning meetings—from physical space, to lighting, to interpreters, to bathroom locations, to the readability of materials.

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Step 2. Assessing the Community's Needs

The focus group participants were so happy to have a chance to express themselves. They completely understood how disabilities and vulnerabilities and crime work together, and they were really happy someone was looking at that.
—Linda Riddle
Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, Duluth, Minnesota

You can't fix a problem until you know what the problem is. In a nutshell, that is the purpose of the community needs assessment—to find out the ways that your agency and community partners can improve services for and responses to crime victims with disabilities.

A needs assessment can be as simple or as complex as resources allow. At its most basic, it is a process—one that begins with a set of questions:

Consider the audience, the different ways to gather information, and just what it is you're measuring.

The pilot sites set out to gather information that would give them a better idea of the needs of crime victims with disabilities in their communities. For this step, as with every other, the sites leaned heavily on direct input from persons with disabilities. Hearing firsthand feedback from crime victims with disabilities had a powerful impact on the partners' understanding of the degree of the problem.

Although their efforts were successful, the process was never as simple or easy as it might seem. Much thought and discussion took place before the first contacts were made or the first surveys were completed. Assessments that produce the most relevant and useful feedback begin with careful planning, goal setting, and a design.

Step 2 involves the following tasks:

Decide What You Want To Know

It's a pretty simple concept, but very easy to forget: Ask what you want to know, and go to the source for the information you seek. The pilot sites primarily wanted to know three things:

  1. Why don't community members with disabilities or people who are Deaf report crimes?
  2. How do disability, Deaf, victim service, medical, and law enforcement agencies in our community respond to crime victims with disabilities or people who are Deaf?
  3. How can service systems be more responsive to crime victims with disabilities or Deaf crime victims?

To get that information, they developed the following types of questions for their community needs assessment plans:

This last question may be especially important in states that legally require certain professions (and sometimes, all citizens) to report known or suspected abuse against persons with disabilities to authorities, as many law enforcement and criminal justice systems mistakenly believe that all abuse of persons with disabilities should be handled by adult protective services. Contact your state's adult protective services agency to find out about your state's laws, and your legal responsibility, for reporting abuse against persons with disabilities.

Choose an Assessment Method

The pilot sites developed needs assessment methods that allowed them to get the most information from a variety of participants. Some people feel less pressured talking in a group situation, some prefer to meet one-on-one, and others feel more comfortable with written formats. Each site developed information-gathering strategies and instruments with its target audience in mind.

Focus Groups

Focus groups guided by skilled facilitators tend to be more efficient than one-on-one interviews, as indepth information can be gathered from a wider range of people at once. Focus groups also allow participants to meet new people, network, and build community relationships. Effective facilitators are knowledgeable about various disabilities, including the fact that many persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities are brought up to submit to any person in authority. Facilitators also need to have some experience soliciting information from groups of people, including asking followup questions and being comfortable with silence to give people time to think about their answers.

tipsTips From the Field

Family Crisis Services staff will be the first to say that getting people to come to focus groups is difficult and time consuming. But in the end, it is also the method they most recommend.

Listening to persons with disabilities talk about their experiences with victim services—good and bad—had a powerful impact during the pilot sites' focus groups. The groups not only provided rich information, they also brought momentum to the project.

During focus groups, at least one staff member should take notes—although two is best for accuracy—so that responses may be reviewed and considered after the fact. If the focus group includes people who are Deaf, ideally the facilitator will be fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). If that is not possible, use certified ASL interpreters who are well-versed in the language of abuse and the issues of exploitation, domestic violence, sexual assault, neglect, stalking, and other forms of victimization.

Any notes taken should be treated as confidential documents and stored as such. They should not contain names or scenarios that could identify the participants.

One-on-One Interviews

One-on-one interviews provide more flexibility for respondents who use communication aids, need more time to answer questions (or need questions reworded), require a quiet setting, or prefer not to talk in a group. Individual interviews also allow information gathering at a deeper level because there is more time to discuss a topic extensively. The pilot sites were careful to let participants know that all information would be confidential, that notes would not identify them by name, and that any information obtained would be kept in a secure location.


Surveys allow for larger scale information gathering. Thanks to the Internet, this method now enables you to reach any number of people with a limited amount of effort. Even old-fashioned pen-and-paper surveys, however, provide the same clean form of data, as every respondent answers the same questions. Surveys are less time consuming and take less effort than interviews and focus groups relative to the amount and reliability of data collected. For this project, the pilot sites had mixed results with surveys. Those that were aggressively promoted—such as when supervisors asked patrol officers to fill out the survey before going on shift—had strong results. Without such strong promotion, the sites reported disappointing results. Other disadvantages of surveys follow:

Whether you distribute paper copies to specific recipients or use an online resource to reach a broader audience (e.g., SurveyMonkey®, FreeOnlineSurveys), there's one more important point to consider: The data you collect will only be as good as the questions you ask.

Uphold Safety, Consent, and Confidentiality

Each type of community needs assessment method comes with its own safety and confidentiality issues. Whatever method you use, spend time with your partners considering how to avoid endangering or exploiting persons with disabilities who are in abusive situations.

To protect the safety of all involved, OVC, SafePlace, and the three pilot sites spent a fair amount of time discussing safety and developing the following tools:

In addition, the pilot sites made available counselors and advocates during and after interviews and focus groups, in case any topics were emotionally triggering to participants. The sites also gave participants information about community resources for counseling and support.

The sites were aware that any written correspondence, e-mails, or phone calls could further expose participants who were in abusive situations to danger and were careful to ask about the safest way to communicate.

Recruit Participants

Once you have settled on the needs assessment method, partners can next work together to recruit participants from different stakeholder groups. The pilot sites included adults with disabilities and those who are Deaf as well as their families, staff from partner agencies, law enforcement and criminal justice staff, and service providers who work with adults with disabilities, those who are Deaf, and victims of crime (including sexual assault and domestic violence). To recruit these participants, the sites used the following strategies:

Evaluate the Findings

This last step is the culmination of your group's effort—the end of one conversation and the beginning of another. What did the interviews, focus groups, and surveys tell you? The answers will guide the rest of your work in making your community more responsive to crime victims with disabilities.

The data the group collects should point you to key conclusions and relevant patterns, but usually include a few surprises as well. Take the time to look closely at the responses you receive, consider any issues raised that you had not thought about previously, and chart the direction the project will take according to what you have learned.

List the gaps, barriers, needs, and themes that emerge from the assessment. Once you are satisfied that you have identified the major issues and needs in your community, you and your partners can summarize your findings and recommendations in a report and share it with an advisory committee, board members, key stakeholders, and potential funders. This document will become the basis for your action planning.

The pilot sites used the following process:


Assessing Community Needs and Resources, The Community Toolbox. Provides an indepth, step-by-step guide to developing, conducting, and analyzing community needs assessments.

Guide to Conducting a Needs Assessment. Provides a clear, six-step process for developing needs assessments.

Samples From the Pilot Sites

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Step 3. Developing a Strategic Plan

People with disabilities didn't know about us, so they didn't reach out to us even though we put the word out. It wasn't until our disability service provider partners vouched for us that the doors opened.
Stephanie Smith-Bowman
Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio, Columbus

Once armed with solid information about the challenges, service gaps, and experiences of crime victims with disabilities in your community, as well as recommendations for action, it is time to move confidently to the next step—developing a plan.

The strategic plan follows neatly from the community needs assessment. However, partners will need to discuss which recommendations of the assessment to follow, along with when and how.

You might find, as the three pilot sites did, that the strategic plan focuses largely on—

Step 3 involves the following tasks:

Prioritize Needs and Identify Solutions

Begin by analyzing what the community needs assessment revealed about the gaps and strengths of your community's services for crime victims with disabilities. You are likely to identify more needs than you can address, at least in the beginning. To help prioritize—

Below is an example of how one of the pilot sites, Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO), crafted its strategic plan.

Devise a Written Plan

Consider presenting the plan in an easy-to-read table format (see Sample Strategic Plan Excerpt below), and make sure that it does the following (adapted from McNamara, 2008):

Sample Strategic Plan Excerpt

Major Strategies Success
Timeframe Responsible Party Performance Measurements

Crime victims with disabilities will have knowledge about local crime victim services.

Increase awareness of victim services, including domestic violence and sexual assault centers, among persons with disabilities through a series of educational classes.

Persons with disabilities will access victim services resources.

Year 1

Program director

Numbers of classes on personal safety, persons with disabilities reached, and persons with disabilities contacting the victim services organization to request services.

When the group has developed the plan, partners can ask themselves the following questions:

tipsTips From the Field

Family Crisis Services recommends doing multiple revisions of the strategic plan, editing it along the way to state achievable goals. Focus on realistic goals to help move your project forward, complete the plan as early as you can, and don't be afraid to revise it.

Devising a plan that all the partners can agree on may take some discussion. Your group may have to renegotiate, compromise, and reeducate each other. During the process, keep as your touchstone the common agreement to address the needs uncovered during the community needs assessment.


Developing a Strategic Plan, The Community Toolbox. Includes sections on developing mission statements, objectives, an action plan, and action steps as well as gathering community feedback.

Strategic Planning Toolkit. Offers guidelines, tools, and resources for every step of a six-step strategic planning process.

Sample From the Pilot Sites

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Step 4. Taking Action

The replication project design required us to tie our strategic design directly back to the needs assessment. This was very helpful in providing clarity: We were developing a local plan to address the barriers identified with victims, completely in keeping with DAIP's guiding principle of basing our work on the lived experiences of battered women.
Linda Riddle
Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, Duluth, Minnesota

tipsTips From the Field

Avoid documenting disabilities. The reasons not to label a survivor are many. Diagnostic labels should only be given by a licensed professional. Simply because a survivor discloses a specific disability does not mean that the diagnosis is accurate. Further, case files can be subpoenaed. Because our society still has great strides to make in civil rights for persons with disabilities, documenting a disability (whether it is accurate or not) could jeopardize the person in a custody hearing or make her or him lose credibility as a victim in a criminal case.

The only exception is when descriptions of a person's disability can help staff provide services. For example: "Mary will be accompanied by her service animal. Staff should refrain from petting and distracting the animal." "John has asked that an interpreter be provided at the meeting."

Finally the time comes, and you arrive at the very doorstep of change. You have developed a collaborative partnership or an advisory committee to share the work. You have an understanding of the needs of crime victims with disabilities and how to better reach them with your services. You've discovered where partners are strong and where they can improve. And the partnerships have created an ambitious but workable plan for change. Now it's time to take action.

The work involved in meeting this goal is dynamic and requires commitment. Ideally, each partnering agency will—

It's a very tall order. But whether you tackle everything at once or break it into smaller goals, by taking the steps listed above, you've already laid the groundwork to make your plan succeed.

Step 4 involves the following tasks:

Make Victim Services Accessible

The pilot sites made themselves more accessible because they were committed to serving all survivors of crime in their communities. Organizations that require more incentive should heed the following: It is illegal to discriminate against persons with disabilities in the United States. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require that the same full range of services be available to all people in the most integrated setting, regardless of any physical, sensory, cognitive, psychiatric, or other disability. All service providers, regardless of agency size, are required to provide accessible services to persons with disabilities.

There are three types of accessibility, and they are all intertwined:

Attitudinal Accessibility

tipsTips From the Field

The Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio's advice: Address staff attitudes first about working with persons with disabilities. Provide training and space for discussion to address your staff's fears and concerns. Agencies tend to look at physical accessibility first because it is tangible and easier to address.

Physical accessibility is important. A welcoming staff, however, is critical.

The least tangible but most important kind of accessibility is making crime victims with disabilities feel welcomed. Increasing your staff's attitudinal accessibility involves training and discussions to increase staff buy-in.

All three pilot sites spent a fair amount of time addressing their staff's fears and training them to better work with persons with a variety of disabilities and people who are Deaf. For staff members who worked directly on this project, a major internal shift came from conducting the focus groups. Listening to persons with disabilities and those who are Deaf talk frankly brought immediate clarity to staff about the need to improve their services to this population.

Opening the minds of other staff who were not part of the focus groups took training, discussions, patience, and a clear directive from management that providing services to crime victims with disabilities was an organizational priority. In the end, the best way to dispel anyone's fears about working with this population is simply to have those individuals work with survivors with disabilities and Deaf survivors. After working through this project, the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO) reported that its staff are no longer "shy, scared, or ignorant of the needs of survivors with disabilities. Confidence was missing before." Family Crisis Services (FCS) reports that staff now have an attitude of "how can we make this work," rather than the previous attitude of "this isn't going to work."

Even with this level of improvement, attitudinal accessibility can never be checked off a to-do list as complete. Stretching and learning to serve diverse populations is the work of a lifetime.

tipsTips From the Field

Attitudinal access has to happen from the top down. If managers have a negative attitude about serving any population, no changes will be made, or any changes that are made will likely be ineffective.

Other ways to address staff attitudes follow:

Physical Accessibility

Physical accessibility is the most tangible concept. It means making facilities usable for persons with all types of disabilities. Often, when people think about physical accessibility, they think about making a building accessible to people who use wheelchairs. In fact, all agencies should be physically accessible at this point to comply with ADA regulations. (See the Glossary for an ADA definition.)

Wheelchair accessibility is important, but it is by no means the beginning and end of physical accessibility. The pilot sites learned to go beyond ADA regulations and to consider the spirit of the law, which is to do whatever needs to be done on an individual basis to make services work for every person. Consider the great variety of disabilities and how they affect people and then consider your building and your services.

To make your building more accessible—

FCS improved its accessibility by moving into a new shelter that included an elevator, lower door handles that can be opened with a closed fist, three bedrooms, an accessible shower on the first floor, and a more open floor plan.

Programmatic Accessibility

Programmatic accessibility means looking at how rules, policies, and practices may inadvertently keep persons with disabilities from receiving services. FCS adopted a policy that allows personal care attendants, service dogs, and therapy pets in its shelters; changed its intake form to clarify its intention to "screen all people in" for services rather than screening them out; and changed the format of staff meetings to include regular discussions about working with abuse survivors with disabilities. Other recommended changes include developing the following:

Reach Out to Persons With Disabilities
Compliance With the Law
By making your materials accessible to people with limited English skills, you are not only complying with section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which govern effective communication with persons with disabilities, but also with title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title VI, among other things, governs meaningful access to programs and activities by people with limited English proficiency because of their national origin.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that electronic communications and publications, and other information technology, be accessible to persons with disabilities. This law applies to government agencies and to agencies receiving federal funds.

You've addressed physical accessibility, you've made changes to your policies and practices, and your staff members have begun the long-term job of addressing any of their own internal biases toward working with crime victims who have disabilities. Those gains are only the start. Persons with disabilities, as you discovered in your needs assessment, do not report crimes for many reasons, including fear and lack of trust. Conducting outreach is one way to let persons with disabilities know that your agency exists and that you and your partner agencies are committed to serving them.

Common outreach methods include staffing booths at public awareness events, distributing brochures or fact sheets that advertise that your services are accessible to persons with disabilities and address some of the issues facing these crime victims, and providing cross trainings with disability service agencies.

In developing or amending brochures, keep in mind the range of persons with disabilities and Deaf people. A woman who is easily fatigued because of multiple sclerosis has different service needs from a Deaf crime victim who requires an ASL interpreter, who, in turn, has different needs from a person with an intellectual or developmental disability. It would be impossible to develop materials that speak to all the disabilities individuals may have. Instead, your message can be simply that you provide services to persons with disabilities and those who are Deaf. Make your materials accessible to people with limited reading skills because of a cognitive disability or because their first language is ASL, not English. Invite persons with disabilities to help your agency create and edit its materials.

Other examples of outreach methods include the following:

tipsTips From the Field

The Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO) leaned heavily on its community partners, who lined up trainings, copresented, and basically got SARNCO staff in the doors of disability services and other agencies throughout the community that might have otherwise been closed. As you develop your partnerships, look for people you already know who can vouch for you.
Educate the Public

The pilot sites held classes for persons with disabilities and those who are Deaf. These classes often included role playing and discussions and were tailored to the learning needs and experiences of each audience.

Possible topics for your community to explore include the following:

Although the following list is not comprehensive, it does list steps that may help you plan your educational sessions:

Train Stakeholders
tipsTips From the Field

Take time to find out what your audience knows before you train. Staff from one pilot site were disappointed at the results of
pre- and post-tests after training one of the law enforcement agencies in their community. They realized too late that the reason the officers had not reported a large increase in learning was because they came into the training already aware of many issues related to crime against persons with disabilities.

Cross training can fill in the gaps for stakeholders in this project. Victim services staff, who may have little experience providing services to persons with disabilities, can increase their skills and awareness. Staff in disability services, who may not be aware of how prevalent abuse is or what to do when it is reported, can learn how to recognize and respond sensitively to abuse and other crimes against persons with disabilities.

Make use of your advisory committee or collaborative partnership to begin cross training with your own staff, disability service agencies, law enforcement, medical staff, and other victim service agency staff and volunteers.

For the three pilot sites, the primary purposes of the trainings were to—

tipsTips From the Field

Resistance can sometimes come from unexpected places. One pilot site found that 911 dispatchers were defensive and responded negatively to training about people-first language, which puts the person before his or her disability. The workers were concerned that their calls would be monitored for compliance. Break resistance down by being neutral, explaining the reasoning behind the particular issue, and making efforts to discover and address the concern behind the opposition.

Depending on the audience, professional training topics may include the following:

  • Dynamics and prevalence of abuse/victimization against persons with disabilities.
  • Dynamics of power and control in relationships.
  • Unique barriers faced by a person with a disability leaving an abusive relationship.
  • Possible indicators of abuse.
  • State reporting requirements for abuse or exploitation of persons with disabilities.
  • How to recognize and respond to signs or disclosures of abuse.
  • Safety planning for crime victims who have disabilities or those who are Deaf.
  • Disability etiquette and Deaf culture.
  • Communication with Deaf people and with persons with intellectual, speech, and visual disabilities.
  • Strategies for providing sensitive and accessible victim services.

Engage your audience with a mixture of lectures, discussions, activities, case studies, and role playing.



Increasing Agency Accessibility for People With Disabilities: Domestic Violence Agency Self-Assessment Guide. Includes a comprehensive list of program and facility issues to consider in making a domestic violence agency—as well as other agencies—fully accessible to persons with disabilities.

Accessibility: Ramps, ADA Bathrooms and a Whole Lot More! Helps identify ways to increase access to services for crime victims with disabilities.

ADA Web page. Provides information and technical assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Making your Documents more Readable. Offers information about which font sizes and types are easiest to read.

Whole Building Design Guide. Has a wealth of information about accessibility, a history of accessible buildings, and resources for more information.

Screening Practices for Domestic Violence Victims with Disabilities. Supports crisis agencies in including questions about disability issues and service needs in their intake process. It covers initial contact and crisis intervention and provision of ongoing services and includes sample screening questions.

Accessible Web Sites

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Requires that electronic and information technology be accessible for persons with disabilities. This law applies to government agencies and to agencies receiving federal funds.

Knowbility, Inc. Teaches how and why to make technology accessible to everyone.

Designing More Usable Web Sites. Links to resources on all aspects of Web accessibility.

Accessibility Institute. Contains a how-to and demos page that provides links to short tutorials giving specific examples on Web accessibility.

Checklist of Checkpoints for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. Provides an accessibility checklist for Web content developers.

Outreach and Education

Disability Services ASAP (A Safety Awareness Program) Informational Fact Sheets, SafePlace. Cover topics ranging from inquiring about abusive experiences, Internet safety, communication with someone with atypical speech, and dynamics of caregiver abuse.

Promoting Interest in Community Issues, The Community Toolbox. Discusses how to develop a plan of communication, hold a press conference, and develop public service announcements, posters, fliers, brochures, and Web sites.

Providing Training and Technical Assistance, The Community Toolbox. Discusses how to design and deliver a training session.

SafePlace Lending Library. Lends curricula on personal safety, healthy relationships, and safer sexuality, among other topics.

Safety Planning, National Domestic Violence Hotline. Provides guidelines for developing safety plans.

Your Rights Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Describes section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, outlines who is protected from discrimination, and reviews prohibited discriminatory acts in health care and human services settings.

Sample From the Pilot Sites

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Step 5. Taking Measure

Increasing awareness on disability issues requires patience and tenacity. You really need a commitment of understanding that the changes are going to take time.
—Linda Riddle
Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, Duluth, Minnesota

A byproduct of improving services to crime victims with disabilities is an increase in the number of crimes reported by this population. This increase will not necessarily mean that more crimes are being committed in your community, but that you and your partners have been effective in removing some of the barriers to reporting crimes.

tipsTips From the Field

Be very cautious about confidentiality in tracking and documenting disabilities. Disabilities can be and are used against people in court and in child custody cases. The pilot sites were extremely careful not to attach disability status to actual names in databases or case files.

Setting up a system to track these reports of crime takes time but also brings benefits. You may find, as the pilot sites did, that you are providing services to more persons with a larger variety of disabilities than you at first realized. Tracking and reporting crimes against persons with disabilities can focus community attention on improving services to this underserved population.

Step 5 involves the following tasks:

Educate Staff on the Definition of Disability

What is a disability?1 During this project, agency staff, volunteers, and crime victims with evident disabilities themselves struggled to answer that question.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person with a disability has difficulty performing any of the following tasks (or has a record of or is perceived as having difficulty):

Further, according to the ADA, a person is still considered to have a disability even if the condition—

Adopt the ADA standard definition of disability, and ensure that all partners use it to keep reporting consistent.

1 This section's definitions were adapted from the ADA's definition of disability and from B. East, Advocacy, Inc., (now Disability Rights–Texas), personal communication, June 15, 2010.

Develop a Tracking System

The pilot sites set up systems with their partners to track the number of crimes committed against persons with disabilities in their communities. To do so, they started by developing internal tracking systems. Typically, this means modifying your current intake forms, hotline questionnaires, or client evaluation surveys to add a question about disability status. Remember: Answers to these questions must not affect eligibility for services.

Sample Questionnaire About Disability
Our agency makes reasonable modifications to services as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. We are asking everyone to whom we provide services if he or she has a disability so we can know how many persons with disabilities we serve. This information will be kept confidential.

You do not have to answer this question, but if you are comfortable telling us, do you have a disability?
___ Yes ___ No ___ Prefer not to answer

If so, are you willing to share what type of disability you have? __________________________________

Do you have any needs related to the disability that, when addressed, will help you receive services through our agency? __________________________________

Please let us know if you would like to share information later about any disability-related needs.

Once the sites developed internal tracking systems, they shared them with their community partners and discussed how those partners could begin tracking the number of crime victims with disabilities served by their own agencies.

At the beginning of the project, the sites combined had a baseline of 23 reports of crime for the previous year. After putting tracking plans in place, the sites and their partners reported 1,380 crimes in 1 year. Community partners included rape crisis and domestic violence centers, a family justice center, a center for independent living, a protection and advocacy agency, three police departments, and a justice league.

Tracking mirrored the particular makeup of each community. Because the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO) is part of a hospital network, for example, its tracking system largely focused on its own rape crisis staff and hospital sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) as well as other project partners. Family Crisis Services (FCS), on the other hand, worked with its core police partners to track crimes using a database form.

Because each agency and each community are unique, there is no one-size-fits-all tracking plan. You will need to develop a plan that fits your own particular partners and community.

The following tips and examples may help you begin your own tracking plan.

Train Staff To Use the System
tipsTips From the Field

In developing tracking systems, questions may arise such as "Should we report observable disabilities even if the survivor does not report a disability?", "Does mental illness have to be diagnosed?", and "If the guardian reports a disability of the crime victim, do we track it?" The pilot sites counted only people who self-disclosed a disability, and they were prepared to provide a definition and examples of disabilities if crime victims were unsure if they had a disability.

Talk to your staff about why collecting information about disabilities is important, and address any discomfort they might have with asking the question. Staff instructions might include the following:

tipsTips From the Field

Be prepared to address staff discomfort. In Columbus, Ohio, volunteers and sexual assault nurse examiners were initially uneasy about asking sexual assault survivors if they had disabilities, so staff from the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio provided training and a more detailed script for service providers to follow.
    • Ask all people the same questions, whether they appear to have a disability or not. This tactic is a good way to reach persons with hidden disabilities (e.g., seizure disorder, mental illness/trauma, AIDS, cancer). Letting all clients know that everybody is asked the same question also reduces the possibility of perceived discrimination.
    • Use your best judgment about when to ask and when not to ask about disability. Do not ask when the person seems to be feeling overwhelmed or is in extreme crisis, for example.
    • Only record people who say they have a disability. Do not assume a disability based on your personal observation.

Compile the Tracked Information Regularly

Devise a system with your partner agencies for compiling the tracked information at regular intervals. The pilot sites, for example, compiled information quarterly. Adapt this system or devise your own method for organizing and storing the collected information on a spreadsheet or in a database.

Consider the following when determining how often to compile information:

The pilot sites tracked information about crimes against persons with disabilities for a year during the project but have continued to track after the project ended. Track the data long enough to notice if changes are occurring—for a minimum of a year. If at all possible, institutionalize the change so that your community automatically collects data every quarter.

Share the Information

Share the tracked information about crime victims with disabilities with your partners, local law enforcement, victim service agencies, the criminal justice system, and others.

Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs found that half of the people they asked—50 percent of the people they were already serving—reported having a disability. Although your numbers may not be that high, bringing this information to light in your community will show all stakeholders how critical it is to continue to improve services for crime victims with disabilities.


Samples From the Pilot Sites

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Step 6. Evaluating the Project's Impact

By evaluating our programs, we can compare how we think we're doing with how we actually are doing.
—Wendie Abramson
SafePlace, Austin, Texas

Project evaluations are useful because they tell you if goals are being met, if your services are being changed as intended, and if further tweaking of your project is needed to better meet community needs. Additionally, evaluations are helpful in assessing the project's value, reporting to funders, and demonstrating accountability to the community, advisory committee, funders, and the agency's board of directors.

Step 6 involves the following tasks:

Develop an Evaluation Plan

The project evaluation flows directly from the strategic plan. To gauge your project's effectiveness, you should have already worked with your partners to add reasonable measurements to the strategic plan's activities and goals. (See Devise a Written Plan in step 3 of this guide.)

Although there are numerous methods for developing a project evaluation, the three pilot sites used a simple output- and outcome-based plan to collect information on the following:  


Outputs are simply a number or count of services provided. Each site tracked and reported the following information:


Outcomes measure the actual impact that the program makes. Outcomes tend to be expressed as percentages. Types of outcomes may include changed attitudes or values, changed behaviors, new knowledge, or new skills. Sites reported on the following outcomes:

For this project, 85.5 percent of persons with disabilities and 85 percent of professionals reported or demonstrated an increased understanding of the issues through these tests, which were given immediately before and after each educational session.

Method of Measurement and Data Collection

In collecting data on your outputs and outcomes—

Assess Training Effectiveness
tipsTips From the Field

Staff from the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio learned to be creative with pre- and post-testing during short trainings. Sometimes, they asked the questions verbally as part of the presentation. They kept the process simple and quick: one to three questions, allowing a maximum of 5 minutes for pre-testing and 5 minutes for post-testing. A plus of pre-testing verbally is that staff members can adjust the training based on audience answers.

You can evaluate the effectiveness of your training sessions through pre- and post-tests and through class evaluations.

Pre- and Post-Tests

One way to measure whether people are getting the information you hope they are from your training sessions is to analyze what participants know before and after the class. This can be accomplished through pre- and post-class surveys. If you use this method, develop separate pre- and post-tests for your different audiences (e.g., persons with disabilities, disability and victim service providers, law enforcement).

Evaluation Surveys

To collect feedback on training sessions or services, use evaluation surveys. Evaluation surveys might ask people (1) to rate the effectiveness of the training; (2) if they learned new information and, if so, which information was the most helpful; (3) how they will use the information; and (4) for additional comments. Evaluation forms will not measure what people learned during the session accurately, but they can give you feedback about your training methods and the information presented. You can also send followup evaluation surveys several weeks or months after the training to rate the ongoing effectiveness of the information you presented.

Make Evaluations Accessible

Complicating factors usually arise when you begin evaluating training sessions:

When giving surveys or tests to persons with intellectual disabilities, people who are physically unable to write responses, or people with limited English reading and writing skills, adapt your evaluation method:

For people who do not read, write, or speak, consider developing a visual aid that features scenarios discussed during the educational session, and ask participants to point to or circle answers.

Share the Information

Informing stakeholders, partners, and funders about the project's accomplishments can help maintain and increase community enthusiasm for the project. Periodically collect the evaluations from your training sessions and develop a pie chart or graph showing the improvement in knowledge of the various audiences. Use these exhibits to make the data visually clear and easily understood when you update your stakeholders.


Basic Guide to Outcomes-Based Evaluation for Nonprofit Organizations with Very Limited Resources. Provides basic guidelines to help organizations plan and implement outcomes-based evaluations.

Guide to Performance Measurement and Program Evaluation. Helps agencies develop an evaluation plan, establish measurable goals and objectives, design and conduct the evaluation to continuously assess progress, identify measures to reflect a program's impact, and use the results to refine and improve services.

Professional Development Modules. Help users who want an introduction to the major components of an evaluation, are novice evaluators and want to learn more or to self-instruct, or are experienced evaluators and want advice in a targeted area.

Samples From the Pilot Sites

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Step 7. Sustaining the Momentum

The advisory committee is critical to sustainability. It's about forming, maintaining, and improving those relationships. It feels like we're working together on a project that's going to be beyond the lifetime of this grant.
—Meg London
Family Crisis Services, Portland, Maine

Every step of this project is designed to change the response of your agency and other service providers in a permanent way. If you followed each step—

The three pilot sites that took on this project did not stop here. They know how important this work is and are invested in continuing to improve services for crime victims with disabilities in their communities.

To keep their momentum going, they took some of the following steps:

Plan for Ongoing Relationships

Discuss how to keep your relationships moving forward with your collaborative partners or advisory committee. Options include the following:

To institutionalize its relationships, for example, the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio moved its project partners into a subcommittee of its board.

Institutionalize Changes
tipsTips From the Field

To successfully sustain their work, Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs staff purposefully did not create a separate disability program. Instead, they wove disability issues into other agency projects and programs.

To make permanent improvements in services, put them in writing and put them into practice. Develop new policies, procedures, and practices or modify existing ones to reflect the changes you've made in how your agency does business.

Seek Funding

You can do much of this work without funding, but additional support can pay for more staff training time as well as cover costs for interpreters and for other accommodations. Funding tips include the following:

Two of the pilot sites were awarded funding from public and private sources:

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In Summary

Consider taking any of these incremental steps to begin making permanent changes in your community:

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Accessibility. Being accessible to crime victims with disabilities and crime victims who are Deaf means working with your staff, board, and volunteers to remove any barriers to services. True accessibility includes the following:

Americans with Disabilities Act. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 to guarantee persons with disabilities equal opportunity in and access to employment, public accommodations (which include domestic violence and sexual assault centers and other victim service agencies), and government services (among others). According to the ADA, the same goods, benefits, and services must be available to all people, regardless of the type or severity of any disability.

Consumer. A term commonly used for persons with disabilities in the disability field is consumer, meaning people who consume services. Consumers have choices. The term avoids some of the complications and negative implications of the words victim and survivor. It also has its own connotations, in that it separates persons with disabilities from persons without disabilities. In the context of this guide, the term consumer is not currently used by law enforcement or survivor or victim services. The most uniformly equalizing words for all groups in any context are simply people or person.

Deaf culture. The word Deaf is capitalized throughout this guide, and the phrase "people who are Deaf" is often kept distinct in places from "persons with disabilities." These two deliberate choices were made out of respect for the many people who are Deaf who identify themselves primarily as members of the tight-knit Deaf culture and who do not feel that being Deaf is a disability. The topic of whether being Deaf is a disability or not is controversial even among people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Some people who identify as culturally Deaf (with a capital D) do not believe it is a disability because they can function well with technology; some people who are Deaf believe that missing one of five senses does constitute a disability; and yet others believe it is the lack of accommodations and flexibility by the hearing community that makes being Deaf a disability.

Disability.1 According to the ADA, an individual with a disability has a "physical or mental impairment" that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of having such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. The definition of disability was expanded in 2008 under the ADA Amendments Act. Major life activities are now defined as—

Further, a person is still considered to have a disability even if the impairment—

Modifications (or accommodations). Modifications refer to the steps agencies can take to allow each person with disabilities to receive services. Some modifications are general: wheelchair ramps, forms available in large print, and so forth. Other modifications are individual: a person with active symptoms of mental illness may want to sit facing the door during counseling sessions; a person who has a cognitive disability may need a clear explanation of the forms and releases he or she is required to fill out.

Partner, partnership. Unless otherwise noted in the text, these terms refer to project partners and could include members of collaborative partnerships or advisory committees.

People-first language. People-first language is intended to draw attention to the fact that persons with disabilities are people, first and foremost. It addresses the fact that our culture has traditionally treated persons with disabilities as less than human. It identifies all people as people first and avoids offensive terms such as handicapped, crazy, Deaf and dumb, crippled, challenged, retarded, or suffering from. It is respectful to say "the woman with the disability" rather than "the disabled woman" or "the handicapped woman"; "the woman with a diagnosis of mental illness" rather than "the schizophrenic"; and "student with a disability" instead of "special needs student." However, we encourage you to refer to a person's disability only if necessary and to respect how individual people prefer to identify themselves.

Survivor. This term is likely to have different meanings for the mental health field and for victim services workers. Some people who have a psychiatric label refer to themselves as "surviving" mental health systems. Within the domestic violence or rape crisis fields, an individual who has left a violent relationship or a person who has been sexually assaulted may refer to herself or himself as a survivor.

Victim. This term is commonly used by law enforcement agencies and some victim service programs. Some domestic and sexual violence and other service agencies avoid the word victim altogether because of its implications of passivity. Others believe that people who have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault are victimized and, through healing, become survivors. Disability rights activists may avoid the term because persons with disabilities have historically been described as victims of their disabilities.

1 Adapted from the ADA's definition of disability and B. East, Advocacy, Inc., personal communication, June 15, 2010.

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Samples From the Pilot Sites

This section includes resources that SafePlace and its subgrantees—the three pilot sites—used while implementing a multidisciplinary response to crime victims with disabilities. Adapt these samples for your own use as you develop your community's response.

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Funding Sources

Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Developmental Disabilities Council (select your state)

Foundation Center

Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice

Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

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Harrell, E., Ph.D., and M. Rand. 2010. Crime Against People with Disabilities, 2008. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Martin, S.L., N. Ray, D. Sotres-Alvarez, L.L. Kupper, K.E. Moracco, P.A. Dickens, D. Scandlin, and Z. Gizlice. 2006. "Physical and Sexual Assault of Women with Disabilities." Violence Against Women 12(9):823–837.

McNamara, C. 2008. Basic Guide to Program Evaluation. Minneapolis, MN: Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

Powers, L.E., M.A. Curry, M. Oschwald, S. Maley, M. Saxton, and K. Eckels. 2002. "Barriers and Strategies in Addressing Abuse: A Survey of Disabled Women's Experiences—PAS Abuse Survey." The Journal of Rehabilitation 68(1):4–13.

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