Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Conversation I Wish I Didn't Have To Have: Abuse in the Disabled Community

I wish these words never had to be written. I wish this was not an issue, because I want to believe the world I live in would find such acts too heinous to be committed. But such things happen, and leaving these words unwritten will only allow them to continue. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York recently established a new hotline dedicated to reporting abuse and maltreatment of people with disabilities. The hotline registered 5000 calls in 3 weeks. I hope you are disturbed, disgusted, and outraged about the prevalence of abuse in our community, but please don't say you are shocked. To be shocked would be to also be unaware of our society’s history of oppression towards the millions of people with disabilities across the globe. In fact, these kinds of acts are all too commonplace. According to a National Crime Victimization Survey by the Department of Justice, “Adjusting for the varied age distributions of persons with and without disabilities, the violent crime rate against persons with disabilities was 40 violent crimes per 1,000 persons age 12 or older, which was double the violent crime rate for persons with- out disabilities (20 per 1,000)” (Harrell and Rand, 2008).
This unsettling trend has to stop. We people with disabilities are more vulnerable to abuse and neglect for a number of reasons, including the fact that we face discrimination, are more likely to be isolated, and sometimes rely on others to provide basic needs such as dressing, bathing and eating. Admitting that we are members of a vulnerable population does not mean calling ourselves weaker, passive, or “less than”. It does not make me or you any less of an advocate. It simply means acknowledging the challenges ahead of our population so we can work together with our allies to best meet them. Abuse of people with disabilities is sometimes and often times insidious. It might be physical, it might be verbal, or it might be emotional. It doesn't always look like what you see on TV, or should I say don't see on TV because the media is quiet about these things, It is taking a device like a wheelchair away, it is making someone feel like they don't deserve to go to the bathroom. It is letting someone who needs help lie in bed for hours. It is all those similar incidents that go unreported. It can happen at the hands of a family member, a friend, a healthcare provider, or a personal care assistant, and no one should ever have to endure it.  Moreover, no cloak of mercy, no “lack of resources”, no overt ableist attitude should ever justify it. There are one hundred twenty six thousand people with disabilities in New York. If our hotline received five thousand calls in three weeks, can you imagine the staggering number that would result from a national one? This is not about people with disabilities, about parents, about support staff. This is about people, and knowing that if we fail a group of people, we fail all people. To people with disabilities, educate yourself, love yourself, and never stop believing that you deserve equal dignity and worth. To our allies, especially those in caregiving professions, you are essential to ending this terrible issue. Together, we can make that phone stop ringing, not because we will not make the call, but because we don’t need to. Speak up about why the indignities must end, or you will be choked by your silence.

Please read the following document about abuse among people with disabilities here. If you need to report abuse, click here for cases in New York State.

Harrell, E. & Rand, Micheal. (2008). "Crimes against people with disabilities." United States Department of Justice. Retrieved from

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