Victims With Disabilities

Who are victims with disabilities?

This section is devoted to information and resources to help victims of crime with physical and/or mental disabilities. Finding adequate advocacy for victims of crime is a challenge in itself, but finding an advocate that has the proper knowledge and training to meet the needs of a victim of crime with disabilities is an even greater challenge. To make matters even more complex, available research suggests that people living with disabilities are more likely to be victims of crime. This section is aimed to address some of the frequent challenges disabled victims of crime face, as well as to provide references to resources that can help those experiencing more specific issues. Victims of crime with disabilities can include people of all ages, societal, educational and economic backgrounds.  The Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) defines disability in three ways:
  1. “A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one of more of the major life activities of such an individual;
  2. A record of such an impairment; or
  3. Being regarded as having such an impairment”

Obstacles victims with disabilities face…

  • Isolation
    • Our society often segregates persons with disabilities through physical and social isolation, with institutionalization representing the extreme. As a result of pervasive isolation, people with disabilities may not learn about available services and resources nor are they routinely informed of rights they have by law. This is particularly true for people with more severe disabling conditions, older people with disabilities, and younger people with developmental disabilities. Indeed, many people who are chronically victimized do not even know that society condemns such predatory conduct and has tools to end and redress that wrong.
  • Limited Physical Accessibility
    • In many instances, crime victims with disabilities do not have physical access to services. Architectural barriers in buildings and public transportation systems mean that many crime victims with disabilities cannot visit criminal justice agencies or victim assistance programs. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) addresses key issues of accessibility, but there is an extensive lack of understanding of how Titles II and III of the ADA pertain to the criminal justice and victim assistance fields. Moreover, this lack of understanding is frequently coupled with a fear that making services accessible to crime victims with disabilities will require expensive, disruptive adaptations.
  • Limited Attitudinal Accessibility
    • Attitudes toward the person with a disability is as important, or more so, than physical accessibility. In addition to accessible physical environments, program staff must be welcoming toward people with disabilities and show in their demeanor and in the quality of their programs that they sincerely want to work collaboratively to serve the community.
  • Underreporting of the Crime
    • Underreporting of crime is a pervasive problem that the victim assistance field is addressing on many fronts. A crime may go unreported for many reasons: mobility or communication barriers, the social or physical isolation of the victim, a victim’s normal feelings of shame and self-blame, ignorance of the justice system, or the perpetrator is a family member or primary caregiver. In crimes involving a victim with a disability, one or more of these factors may prevent the crime from ever being reported. When the crime is reported, the reporting agency often fails to note that the victim had a disability, especially if the crime is reported by someone other than the victim. Later, assumptions and prejudice about the reliability of the testimony of victims with disabilities can deny them access to justice in the courts.
  • Limited Advocacy
    • Despite progress by disability rights activists, advocacy on their own behalf is still limited. Again, just as with many crime victims, a person who wants to access criminal justice decision-making processes is unable to do so without adequate tools to enable full participation.
  • Caregiver Abuse
    • The very people entrusted with providing assistance for persons living with disabilities are often the perpetrators of physical or sexual violence against them. When the relationship is also one of a primary caregiver, survivors of violence living with disabilities may be less willing to get help or to identify the relationship as abusive. Caregivers may be family members in the home, employees of residential care facilities, hospitals, institutions or other persons who have a responsibility to provide essential services. The need for assistance varies widely and not all persons living with disabilities need or want caregiver assistance in daily living.
    • For some survivors, the assistance or a caregiver or assistant may be necessary to accommodate daily living. This relationship may make a survivor less willing to seek help from a rape crisis center, law enforcement or protective services agency. It is also important to address how the victim will remain safe from the caregiver after a report is made. Generally, the regional Ombudsman services will be able to investigate and adopt a plan to keep the survivor safe.

Common myths about victims with disabilities…

The following three myths contribute to stereotyping which often results in discrimination against people with disabilities: The first myth is the perception that people with disabilities are “suffering.” Rather than extending legal rights and protections, as with other oppressed groups, a societal response prior to passage of the ADA typically was to extend “charity.” Being kind to a person with a disability is not an acceptable substitute for the provision of civil rights protections. The second myth is that people with disabilities lack the ability to make choices or determine for themselves what is best for them in all spheres of life (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, political, sexual, and financial). Although individuals with severe cognitive impairments may need greater support and advocacy services, this does not impede their ability or preclude their right to participate actively in decisions affecting their lives. The third myth, according to crime victim advocates, is that many people in society fear contact with crime victims generally, as though their distresses are contagious. An even stronger stigma attaches to people with disabilities. Our society is not socialized to integrate differences in abilities as a part of our perception of “normality.” The cultural norms for functioning include good hearing and vision, physical independence and mobility, mental alertness, the ability to communicate primarily through the written and spoken word, and physical attractiveness. Deviations from those norms tend to frighten those in the “able-bodied majority” who define the concept of normal abilities. When the two forces of stigma are joined victimization and disability attitudinal barriers to providing healing and justice can seem even more formidable. Until recently, the crime victims’ movement has not worked systematically to identify the issues and challenges involved in responding more effectively to victims with disabilities. Improving service delivery to people with disabilities must become a priority because the crime victims’ rights movement is founded on the premise that every crime victim deserves fundamental justice and comprehensive, quality services.

Resources for victims with disabilities

    • CAL CASA
    • (916-446-2520)
    • Sacramento, CA
  • Victims of Crime Medical Care
    • (888-776-3729)
    • Statewide
  • Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
Go to the 1800Victims homepage or call us at 1-800-VICTIMS (1-800-842-8467) to find resources in your county including Victim Assistance Centers and local law enforcement agencies.

You may be eligible for compensation…

The California Victim Compensation Program may be able to help victims who were injured or threatened with physical injury as the result of an attack. See the following link to find out if you are eligible to apply for compensation: or contact the California Victim Compensation Program: Phone: 1-800-777-9229 Web: