Serving Crime Victims with Disabilities
Olegario Cantos VII, Sharon D'Eusanio  -  2007/2/21
In your opinion, what jurisdictions have best practices interagency protocols to respond to victims who are disabled or elderly?
1.  S D'Eusanio
 Keep in mind that what may be considered Best in one jurisdiction mayh not be Best in another. Safe Place in Austin Texas worked on an OVC funded project and have been workikng on this issue for quite a while you can contact Safe Place at 512-267-7233or go to their web site at you can also go to also the Office for Victims of Crime has many resources at
2.  Nancy Banov
 South Carolina passed legislation last year which could be a model for Federal or state laws. S1116 requires reporting directly to SLED, state law enforcement division unit, the Vulnerable adult investigation unit. A toll free number operates 247. Facilities for persons with mental illness or intellectual disabilities are prohibited from investigating themselves. This has become operational Feb 1st and already 43 cases reported and some will be prosecuted. We hope to get the abusers out of the system. THere has been intensive training of providers, private and public around the state by SLED. Non-criminal cases will be referred to the Ombudsman office to investigate.
Concerning abuse of persons with disabilities living in private and state operated residential facilities, how do you think passing Federal legislation mandating independent investigation of abuse crimes and deaths, and prosecution of abusers, would affect the numbers of persons becoming victims?
1.  Ollie Cantos
 Hello, Nancy. There are already laws on the books that require investigation. Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services in each state must investigate situations that are brought to their attention. In addition, the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act requires minimum standards of care for those living in residential care facilities such as those you have described. Further information about this law may be found at The U.S. Department of Justice has the authority independently to investigate cases of alleged abuse or maltreatment in residential facilities.
2.  Megan
 I think we may see an increase in the number of victims, not because of an actual increase in abuse but because of increased reporting.
Some crime victims who have learning disabilities have a mild hearing difficulty called auditory perceptual problems. They can hear, but they frequently misunderstand questions because they hear words out of order or can't distinguish between sounds. How do police officers handle this and make sure that the person is answering the right question? These subtle difficulties can also cause problems when they are testifying at trial. Auditory perceptual problems often get worse under stress.
1.  Ollie Cantos
 Dale, one thing that has been effective is for various folks to carry a card that describes the nature of the disability and the accommodations needed. This has worked well among those with autism, but it may also be a good approach for those with any type of intellectual disability. If memory serves me correctly, the Autism Society of America has produced such cards. It may be possible for organizations such as LD Online to produce cards of this nature as well to meet the needs of those with learning disabilities.
In 20 years of work in Disability Rights in Michigan, and now another 8 here in Montana I have seen that people with cognitive/intellectual/communication disabilities are too frequently discounted as witnesses, thus decreasing the prospects of prosecution against the people who harm them. In essence, they are deprived of their due process rights. Are there any national models of equal justice, or educational forums for Prosecutors and Judges and law enforcement that we can replicate across the country to rectify the current travesty? Thank you.
1.  Darla Stuart
 Check out the work of Nora Baledarian from California. She has done some work in this area that has been helpful.
2.  Marc Dubin
 Another resource to look at is
3.  Ollie Cantos
 Marsha, your question is an excellent one. For a long time, issues surrounding crime victimization against folks with the most severe disabilities was not even at the forefront of the minds of those in the field. A good resource to which to turn is It is the site of the Child Abuse and Neglect Disability Outreach (CAN-DO) Project, which works with the Arc of Riverside also to put on the only ongoing nationalinternational conference on the abuse of children and adults with disabilities. That site also has a significant source of online information, which you may view. Another site is At the bottom, you will find a link to various resources available through the Office for Victims of Crime that focus specifically on disability.
4.  Mary Zeppuhar
 Marsha:North Carolina put together what looked like a wonderful one day seminar doing just that. My older daughter works as a CSI for the Asheville, NC Police Dept. sent me the information. I couldn't go, but I believe that it was at UNC-Chapel Hill. The folks there had a grant and the program was called Partners in Justice. The partners included the ARC, the state's DD Council, and governmentlaw enforcement entities. Police depts. were encouraged to attend. Speakers included professionals in the disability community, but also judges, prosecutors, etc.
5.  C. Gammicchia
 Marsha, this is multidimenstional in nature but there are a few good products to assist law enforcement and prosecutors in the process. The videos to assist in interviewing and prosecution are available via the DOJ and OVC.Carolyn
Are there specializd services available for a child with severe disabilites that has been victimized and if so what are they?
In your experience, what are the biggest challenges to providing services for victims of crime through a state agency? In our AG's office in Illinois, we have a Crime Victim Services Division, and we are always working on increasing access to our services for victims with disabilities. Can you give your top three changes to implement to increase access to services?
1.  S D'Eusanio
 Increasing access begins with training. Through the Attorney General's Office in Florida we provide Professional Development Training for the victim assistance providers throughout the state and have included a section specifically on Crime Victims with Disabilities. We have also funded through our VOCA grants victim advocate positions based in three Centers for Independent Living. We also provide technical assistance to agencies or organizations who may need information on disability issues as they pertain to crime victims with disabilities. All printed material includes information about alternative formats available upon request. If your office has any influence over content of state or regional training, education on disability issues should be included. Disability conferences should contain workshops on victim rights and services and victims conferences should contain workshops on disability issues. OVC has some great videos I use and more on the way. Go to their web site at for more resources.
Do advocates qualify to label women abused with Mental Illness? Why doesn't the Federal Government proprams help Shelter's with funding to have on Staff Trained Certified Counselors for Women with disabilities? Thank you Annette
1.  Ollie Cantos
 Good afternoon, Annette. The diagnosis of mental illness must be done by a licensed professional. However, there are common signs of mental illness that could assist in coming up with a preliminary determination. Visit to learn more. As for folks being certified in the field of disability in order to provide basic services, you are indeed correct that it is important for more folks to be trained on these issues. That is actually one of the reasons that led to today's discussion. OVC recognizes the need for folks from throughout the victim witness field to be aware of the needs of people with disabilities as well as how those needs may be addressed. These programs should budget costs for reasonable accommodations into the cost of operations, and we as people with disabilities cannot continue to be an afterthought. On an increasing basis, especially over recent months, the entire field is dedicating more of its time and energy toward understanding the disability constituency, and that is what will lead to better service and greater access for people with all types of disabilities.
How do we get all care providers to provide the same respectful care to all people with disabilities? I have noticed that people who had disabilities that are more challenging to provide services for (people with mental illness, sustance abuse issues, who may be hostile or who decline services) are treated differently (more negatively and with a shorter fuse) than other people with disabilities. Please give me your thoughts on this issue.
1.  Ecoee Rooney
 Janet - we offer a similar program here at the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans. I guess my question is - has anyone had experience with changing attitudes across a SART? What have been the successes there - how were the successes achieved?
2.  Janet Wilson
 At the University of Oklahoma we have a a course for all nursing students called The Human Experience of Disability. We teach People First Language, a philosophy and a way to talk respectfully. The research we have done before and after the course has shown tremendous changes in student attitudes. We are about to offer the course for all health care disciplines.
If administrators for a local nonprofit disability service provider wanted to beef up crime-victim services in their area, generally how should they proceed? Where might they go for funding, support or partnerships?
1.  martinewehr
 I work for GET SAFE a nonprofit oraniztion in California providing safety education and self defense for disabled children and adults. We largely contract with a regional center. How can we access additional funding for :children and adults who are disabled, but do not qualify as a regional center clients and crime victims who are disabled to provide of personal safety training?
2.  Bob Grupe
 Lea, Do you mind if I contact you to get more details about how you got your new crime victim services going?I am a reporter for a trade publication, Disability Funding News, which is read by administrators of other nonprofit service providers around the country.
3.  Lea Kitz
 We had the same interest. Our agency is a small nonprofit providing advocacy and education for individuals with developmental disabilities. several years ago we became involved in a few incidents in which some people with developmental disabilities had become involved in the criminal justice system. We began pulling together representatives from the criminal justice and social services systems. We met monthly for about 1 12 years, asking group members to share their role when someone with disabilities hits the CJS. We then wrote and were awarded a grant to bring specialists to a full-day forum for our county to see what was being done in other parts of the country. We had 77 participants, representing a great cross-section of CJS and HS entities. We recently received some money from our county human services office to bring a legal advocate from another county in Wisconsin to describe the model she was working in. We will be following this with pulling CJS and HS people back together to begin formulating protocol across systems. We do not have dedicated staff to this effort, and it is difficult to keep it moving forward. But we believe it is important, and the response we have received from CJS and HS representatives has been very positive.
Would you please address the unique issues faced by crime victims who are permanently disabled as a RESULT of the crime?
1.  S D'Eusanio
 Being a person who has her disability caused by a violent crime I would say some of the unique issues are...dealing with the changing family dynamics. In victim assistance there is help for dealing with some immediate needs like crime victim compensation and trial preparation. Also even mental health counseling specific to the victimization. From my experiences not enough is done with dealing with transioning or intermediate needs or dealing with some of the longer term issues. Issues like child custody in the event of divorce and the disability becomes an issue or who is the payee on the Social Security Disability checks. We need more education, training and funding for those people with disabilities caused by acts of violence to help them not just in the short term but to provide them with the long term supports they may need.
Most states do NOT have a required disability 101 circulium for their law enforcement officers or for their DA's. Because of this oversite most law enforcement and DA's do not understand or work effectively with crime victims/women with disabilities and often dismiss the violence as something the Adult Protection should handle. How can we require across the USA that a full disability circulium be added and or required? It has to be a full ciriculum because having a half and hour presentation by one select group only gives a slice of a very complicated issue.
1.  Laurie Caldwell
 How can I locate the Disability 101 training in DVD format?
2.  DL Beck-Massey
 Haveing approved Disability 101 training in DVD format that can be used in any computer would help with the training issue. It HAS to be a disabilty 101 not specific for cognitive, mental etc. That is the area that most police cover in Critical Incident Training and it does NOT give them the basics to work with ALL disabled victims or perps.
3.  martinewehr
 I addressed this topic concerning the training new sheriff deputies receive at the academy and why they are not given any training to be able to distinguish DD,LD, MR or SED or other cognitive impairments from possible criminal activity.Many individuals at first glance may appear under the influence or disrespectful, when it is actually their disability.I was told it is a time/funding issue at the training academy. Any suggestions to make it a part of the academy curriculum?
What kind of training do people who serve crime victims with disabilities have? What are the most prevalent issues concerning this population that service providers should know about?
1.  Ollie Cantos
 Kalina, that is a good question. All too often, folks in the victim witness field are not trained well on how best to work with and serve individuals with disabilities. A resource that may serve as a handout for such individuals is an article put out in the Fall edition of Networks, the national publication of the National Center for Victims of Crime. See Also, it is important for folks to keep in mind that any recipient of federal funds must comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which essentially prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by any entity receiving federal funding. Also see, the Americans with Disabilities Act Homepage of the U.S. Department of Justice.
2.  S D'Eusanio
 In answer to the first question...Victim Service Providers have training on victimization issues, laws, available services, and are educated on specific victimization issues like domestic violence, sexual assault, homicide, stalking, child abuse, and even beginning now with ID Theft. They should be providing equal services to all of the victims they provide services for. They do not necearrily receive training on disabilities. Many states are now cross training victims advocates on disability issues and disability providers are learning about victims' right and services. Go to for some resources. The most prevalant issue is knowing the specific accommocation is needed and how to ask.
I've been reading more and more reports of abuse of kids with disabilities in schools. Much of this is related to the rise in autism and relatively un-knowledgeable school special ed personnel. What is being done to specifically deal with and eliminate this serious problem? I've been asked to write a national column on special ed and am trying to find out what the govt. is doing about it.
1.  S. D'Eusanio
 The inclusion of children with disabilities has brought about an increased risk of victimization and abuse. Each school system has their own policy for dealing with this issue. I can speak to what is being done in Palm Beach County, Florida to address some of the cases we have had. The Center for Independent Living, which is called the Coalition for Independent Living Option, Inc., staffs attorneys to advocate for children and their families if victimization or abuse takes place in schools. You can contact them at 800-683-7337 or 561-966-4288. Most states also have mandatory reporting laws if abuse of a child is suspected.
Hello Ollie and thank you for leading this discussion. Please comment on what it will take to fully implement the Crime Victims with Disabilities Awareness Act. Thank you!
1.  Ollie Cantos
 I am glad you asked, Peggy. Implementation of the CVDAA requires a concerted effort from within DOJ and in collaboration with disability organizations and victimwitness programs. Specifically, a working group must be assembled from the various stakeholder components to address issues such as question formation, scientific validity, statistical significance, sampling, reporting, distribution of questions, broader efforts to spread awareness about the CVDAA, and partnerships with the law enforcement community. It also requires all stakeholders to come together to decide upon and then decisively move forward on specific next action steps. As an example, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities has played an amazing leadership role in facilitating dialog between the White House and stakeholders from across the country, both from within and outside the disability community. It is THAT kind of consistent effort that is needed, and there must be buy-in from the top among each stakeholder involved; and, that involvement must include everyone.
Please discuss the obligation of law enforcement when responding to a domestic violence call when the victim is deaf and uses sign language as her primary means of communication. When should a sign language interpreter be involved?
1.  Ollie Cantos
 Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, entities such as police departments must provide auxiliary aids and services to facilitate effective communication. For those who are deaf AND who use ASL, that is the appropriate medium, and the police must provide that assistance. But, law enforcement must make sure to ask individuals about their preferred communication medium, since it may not necessarily be assumed that those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing use ASL. In first responder situations, mere pen and paper may not necessarily suffice, especially when the nature of what is trying to be conveyed is more complicated. Law enforcement cannot simply say that a person should bring along a family member in order to ensure that individual communication needs are met. Ultimately, for communication to be effective, it must be individually-tailored to what is best for the needs of that particular individual.
The topic of data collection has been broached numerous times in the past by disability advocacy agencies and individuals with disabilities. Currently we do not have an accurate data collection system on a national basis and this can easily be changed by just providing demographics within the current Uniformed Crime Reports that law enforcement officers complete daily in reporting specific related crimes and victimization and abuse issues. How can we change that now, insert the needed demographics on the forms to make sure this minimally takes place within the next year? Respectfully, Officer Carolyn Gammicchia Shelby Township, MI
1.  Ollie Cantos
 You are indeed correct for pointing out the need for better data collection. That is, in fact, a significant topic of action-oriented discussion. We need a number of folks at the table including statisticians, first responders, disability rights advocates, victim witness service providers, and appropriate officials within BJS in DOJ. From what I have seen directly over recent weeks, especially among those in leadership, I truly do believe that we collectively are going to make things much better by way of data tracking so that, at long last, we will be in a better position to know based on real evidence about the nature and extent of victimization of members of the disability community.
I wanted to inquire what type of help can be given to victims with disabilities whose disabilities hinder the ability to report the details of the crime? For instance, a victim that suffers from mental incapacity, speech impediments or if the victim was given a medication that blocked their ability to either recall the events or any way be unable to express it.
1.  Ollie Cantos
 Maritza, in the past, if a person was an individual with a severe disability such as the medical condition of mental retardation, first responders would not know how to gain the information they need. However, with a new free resource that has been produced, this no longer needs to be the case. Dr. Nora Baladerian, a highly-respected leader in the field of crime victimization of folks with disabiliteis for more than 30 years, has put together a video specifically for first responders. It was put together, thanks to funding from the Office for Victims of Crime. OVC Director John Gillis will be providing further details about the distribution of this video during a national commemoration of National Crime Victims Rights Week in late April. But, in the meantime, visit Dr. Baladerian's site to learn more about the video:
As a professional in the field (at a UCEDD), faculty in a Certificate in Disabilities Studies program, and the parent of a adult daughter with ID, I am interested mainly in two topics (1) when people with cognitive disabilites are coerced into making false confessions and (2) when misdemeanor sexual assaults (e.g., "touching") tend to be overlooked when the act is committed by a person with an intllectual disability against another person with an intellectual disability.
Where are we Ollie with connecting with the folks at the DOJ and BJS on getting the data collected? Carolyn
1.  Ollie Cantos
 Hi, Carolyn. I already have the draft material for a putting an ongoing working group together, and I expect to move on this by Friday. The leadership here is very supportive of these efforts.
What are the latest activities for crime victims with disabilities nationally?
1.  S D'Eusanio
 OVC will be introducing a training DVD on Forensic Interviewing of crime Victims with Cognitive andor Communication Disabilities for more information go to for information on how to obtain this new DVD and other resources. The Office on Violence Against Women is also funding projects you can go to both are national in scope.
After working with victims of crime for several years, I have found that victims with disabilities face obstacles and are treated unfairly. What would be your suggestions for dealing with situations where someone with a disability has been mistreated? What agencies are available to help victims with special needs?
1.  S. D'Eusanio
 All victim services should provide services to all crime victims including crime victims with disabilities. If they are not, they are violating either the Federal Rehabilitation Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act or other state or local laws. Remedies to file complaints for violation of the ADA can be found by calling the DOJ Office of Civil Rights ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 or go to for more information. Your local center for independent living is a good place to go for information on disability services, peer support, or information and referrals. You can contact the National Council on Independent Living at 703-525-3406 to get information on the CIL nearest you. There are several national efforts, training opportunities and grants available to address crime victims with disabilities, go to also
Do Victim Assistance programs train staff regarding the cultural and physical needs of the deaf, hard of hearing, and disabled? Will they provide the appropriate interpretation, etc? or does the victim have to provide this?
1.  Sonia Sierra
 The Victim and Witness Program in the Justice Department has created recently a center for technical support for vicitms with severe language and communication disabilities. I want to know if there are other state that have services for these person. Also I need the statistic of person with these disabilities if you know.
What states have best practices in responding to children with disabilities who are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation? What type of system (i.e. regional diagnostic centers, MDTs) ensures the best outcome for children with disabilities?
Does any state collect data on the child’s disability when reporting crimes or abuse, neglect, exploitation? If so, how is the child’s disability confirmed (i.e. information from medical record, parent, school, etc.)?
I'm by no means an expert in this area, but I'm curious to see, if people with disabilities realize they're being abused and if there is a problem as ofen as those who do not have a disability? Are there any special procedures or protocol for the disabled with abuse problems?
1.  Ollie Cantos
 Hi, Sarah. As a matter of fact, there are existing protocols that help govern how best to work with folks with disabilities. The types of procedures that are required would depend on the nature and extent of a person's disability. At the most basic level, there must be physical and programmatic accessibility. Physical refers to the need for ramps, elevators, wider doorways, etc. Programmatic accessibility may entail provision of a sign language interpreter, use of what is called facilitated communication especially for folks with developmental disabilities, and plans put into place to provide for contingencies surrounding if or when a crime victim with a disability approaches a victimwitness provider for assistance. I would be happy to answer in more detail if you'd like. Just let me know.
Victims with and without disabilities are often revictimized in court proceedings by being badgered and having to face the perpetrator. How likely do you think it would be to pass legislation to protect victims thorough allowing them to testify on closed circuit television or prerecorded videotape? Do you have any other suggestions? Thanks for your time and assistance.
What is your position on penalty enhancements for crimes on disabled persons?
1.  Ollie Cantos
 I believe that those committing crimes against people with disabilities should receive tougher sentences in situations in which the motive behind the crime is the person's disability. For instance, California has a Hate Crimes statute which includes people with disabilities as a protected class. At the moment, there is a cas in Orange County in which one or more individuals actually videotaped the beating of an individual with a disability. Thanks to the work of the Dayle McIntosh Center (an independent living center in Orange County), it is likely that the District Attorney will be pressing additional charges based on the State's Hate Crimes law. This will and must send a signal to would-be perpetrators that such crimes are and must be taken seriously.
The Dept. of Justice has produced some great materials to use in training Police Departments on responding to people with disabilities. Have any states had great success in getting their police departments to use those materials, and how?
1.  S. D'Eusanio
 The best way to find out if and how states used the DOJ materials or how they train police departments is to contact the individual state's main Criminal Justice agency or entity that oversees the trainings and standards for law enforcement. I do know of the Carbondale IL. Police Department which has developed a policy for law enforcemnt in responding to crime victims with disabilities. They were subgrantees on an OVC grant. You can contact them directly at 618-457-3200 ext.447 to speak with their victim advocate.
Are you aware of any domestic violence shelters that have the special services that may be required when a victim is mentally/physically disabled?
1.  S. D'Eusanio
 All domestic violence shelters should provide access to all of their services including shelter to women with disabilities or Deaf/hard of hearing women. You can contact Safe Place in Austin, Texas at or Leslie Myers at her email address, to find out what she is doing in Wisconsin. You can also go to for more information and look at the list of Associates specifically, Sally Mason at the Sojourner Center to find out how they address accessible shelter. Her email address is
Re: victim services. How known and used are domestic violence safety plans specific for people with disabilities
1.  Janet Wilson
 I include Dr. Mary Ann Curry's (U of Washington) Safety Plan for Women with Disabilities in my course. That safety plan was developed from funded focus group research with women with disabilities and is terrific.
2.  S D'Eusanio
 Awareness has been incresing in this area of domestic violence and women with disabilities or Deaf women. You can go to to see what is being done through OVW. You can also go to You can also contact Leslie Myers at who has been working with shelters to develop an appropriate response and safety plans for women with disabilities or Deafhard of hearing women. Not all shelters are accesible or provide access to all of their services. This is however being addressed nationally and state by state. There are the Federal laws like the Rehab Act and the ADA which provide for non discrimination but are not uniformly enforced. Women with disabilities should have input into the development of safety plans and have in put in the development of policies, procedures and protocols. The National Council on Independent Living has also organized a Task Force to address violence against people with disabilities and Deafhard of hearing. You can find out more about the Task Force by contacting the Chariperson Leslie Myers.
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