Awareness and Remembrance, Emerging Issues, Staying Safe

Domestic Violence and Women with Disabilities

January 07, 2019

Marianne M. Park MA, 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 25 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.

a crowd of people forming a disabled person in a chairWhen 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 NFF.

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 in the context of being perpetrated by care givers not to mitigate that aspect my focus has been in the context of intimate partner violence.

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 that disability is a fluid thing. It is not a secret club 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. Those of us with disabilities are viewed as not being “real” adults. Those of us with disabilities if we were born with the disabilities share a legacy of institutions, sideshow exhibition and residential schools in addition to being socialized to be compliant. This all plays a factor in addressing the issue of violence and women with disabilities

The dynamics of domestic violence do not change if a woman has a disability, however we can be abused in unique ways and the intervention required can be unique as well.

Women with disabilities have a high unemployment rate so economic factors can hold a woman in a relationship.

If she requires attendant care, it can be challenging to find safety. Local services may not be accessible, either physically or attitudinally. Mocking her disability online or in person is another strategy used by abusers. Perpetrators can be seen as ”heroes” for taking on such a challenge if the disability has come over the woman. Hiding or destruction of assistive devices occurs. If the device was purchased through Ontario’s Assistive Device Program, there is wait time for eligibility up to five years for some things. 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. 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 and they should.

Despite the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005, which I must add is not gendered, many organizations do not provide information in alternate formats or are physically accessible. Our province is supposed to be completely accessible by 2025. This can be attributed to the lack of funding for service delivery but training and outreach still needs to be done if a group is to be truly inclusive. The province has done some great work such as expansion of interpretive services for folks who are Deaf but major gaps, such participation of women with disabilities at many discussion and planning tables, is not happening much to the determent of the discussion.

Since the election in June 2018, the Standards Development Committees for health care and education have not met, which does not bode well for the government’s commitment to accessibility. Federally, Bill C-81, a national accessibility act, is making its way through parliament; however, it is not gendered and only impacts federal ministries.

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

Any organization offering domestic violence services for survivors or perpetrator needs to incorporate disability awareness and training in all aspects of the service delivery from the beginning. Too often accessibility inclusion is viewed as an expensive afterthought but it does not have to be. 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 simply ask: How can I help you?

Here in Ontario, there is no organization that speaks with the pandisability perspective regarding women with disabilities. I am the founder of Network of Women with Disabilities NOW, a Facebook group and page @NetworkofWomenwithDisabilities16 This is a page on which to receive some information on the experience of women with disabilities. If you are looking for assistance, please visit the group.

Let’s hope for change in 2019, for both working toward the 2015 goal of making Canada completely accessible, as well as much more awareness and services offered to women with disabilities and women experiencing abuse.