Awareness and Remembrance, Personal Stories

NFF Domestic Violence and Women with Disabilities

August 01, 2017

marianne photo
Marianne M. Park,

Social Services Consultant

Marianne is an experienced facilitator, researcher and advocate having worked in the violence against women field for over 30 years.

She has also been involved for 20 years in health regulation as a public member on self-regulating professions governing councils.

She has the distinction of being a woman with a disability (low vision/albinism). She has presented training to over 14,000 police officers in Ontario on the dynamics of domestic violence with emphasis on violence against women with disabilities and Deaf women.

Marianne is the founder of Network of Women with Disabilities NOW a Facebook group dedicated to the issue of sharing information on the issue of violence and women with disabilities. She lives in Woodstock Ontario.

When approached to write this blog post I was thrilled as I enjoy writing and the topic is one that is near and dear to me. I have the distinction of being a woman with a disability (albinism/nystagmus) and I have worked in this field for over thirty years as a court advocate, group facilitator trainer and researcher. I was blessed to be the disability strategy coordinator for the Neighbours, Friends and Families campaign.

The focus of my work has been in the context of disability and intimate partner violence.  It has been well established that women with disabilities and Deaf women are victimized at a higher rate than temporarily abled women. A good amount of research has focused on violence perpetrated by care givers. While that is important work, my focus has been violence perpetrated in the context of intimate partner violence.

Red arrow, text reads: Women with disabilities and deaf women are victimized at a higher rate than temporarily abled women

Due to ablest views in society many women with disabilities are regarded as children and the thought of us being in intimate relationships is either inconceivable or repugnant. The reality is we can find ourselves in the same “diabolical dance” otherwise known as domestic violence as temporarily abled women. In fact many survivors of domestic violence have become disabled due to physical attacks and or prolonged stress.

I use the expression “temporarily abled “to convey the fact that disability is a fluid phenomenon. It is not a secret club and anyone can join due to an accident, age or illness. Disability is something that occurs in every group in society, the one unifying factor. Cultural beliefs, practices and reactions may differ but the outcome is still the same.

Picture from above of people standing in the formation of a person in a wheelchair, text reads: Disability is somsehting that occurs in every group in society, the one unifying factor

Too often, those of us with disabilities are viewed as not being “real” adults. Those of us who were born with disabilities share a legacy of abuse in institutions, the existence of sideshow exhibitions, residential schools and the experience of being socialized to be compliant. These are all factors at play in efforts to address the issue of violence and women with disabilities.

The underlying dynamics of domestic violence do not change if a woman has a disability.  However we can be abused in unique ways and the interventions required to provide support can be unique as well. For example, abusers may mock a woman’s disability online or in person. Perpetrators of abusive behaviour may present themselves and may be seen by others as “heroes” for taking on the challenge of being in a relationship with a woman with a disability.

Women with disabilities have a high unemployment rate so economic factors can hold a woman in a relationship. If a woman requires attendant care, it can be challenging to find safety. Local services may not be accessible either physically or attitudinally. Hiding or destruction of assistive devices is another strategy abusers use. If the device was purchased through Ontario’s Assistive Device Program there is wait time for eligibility up to five years for some needs. These are but a few examples.

Recently two police officers were caught on tape mocking a woman with a disability. I can only imagine their attitude in investigating a situation of domestic violence involving a woman with a disability. Unfortunately, I am not shocked by this blatant bigotry as police officers here in Ontario do not receive specialized training in working with people with disabilities. They should.

Despite the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005) many organizations do not provide information in alternate formats or are not physically accessible. This can be attributed to a lack of funding for service delivery, but training and outreach needs to be done if a group is to be included in a truly inclusive society.

The province has done some great work, such as the expansion of interpretive services for folks who are Deaf, but major gaps still exist and participation of women with disabilities at many discussion and planning tables is not happening, much to the determent of the discussion. Our province is supposed to be completely accessible by 2025.

There are some organizations which have taken the needs of women with disabilities seriously. The Assaulted Women’s Helpline is one, but if there are not accessible services to refer callers to, then it can be viewed as providing false hope.

Any organization offering domestic violence services for survivors or perpetrators needs to incorporate disability awareness and training in all aspects of service delivery. Too often accessibility inclusion is an afterthought and it is viewed as too expensive, but it does not have to be that way. Planning and engagement of true experts, folks with lived experience, can benefit all aspects of any project. The best advice I can offer for working with women with disabilities is to simply ask, “How can I help you?”

Here in Ontario there is not an organization that speaks with a pan disability perspective regarding women with disabilities. I am the founder of Network of Women with Disabilities (NOW).  @NetworkofWomenwithDisabilities16 is a Facebook group and page where you can find information on the experiences of women with disabilities.