Improving Services for Abused Women with Disabilities

CindyProject EMERGE has been instrumental in the creation of practical solutions to the unique challenges faced by women with disabilities and Deaf women: they not only experience abuse at vastly disproportionate numbers, but they also encounter barriers to seeking assistance.

Project EMERGE—a Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) collaboration with Vera House, working to end domestic and sexual violence, and ARISE, creating a fair and just community in which everyone can fully participate—improves services for women with disabilities and Deaf individuals who may also be victims of domestic and/or sexual violence. The Project EMERGE team is working with other community partners, including the Syracuse Police Department, to create policy and best practices within their organizations.

Members of Project EMERGE’s Advisory Group share their story of how the program has provided an opportunity to grow as individuals and to make a difference.

In their own words…

My name is Cindy, and I am writing on behalf of Joan, Georgianne, Jaylenne, and myself. We are a group of women with disabilities and who are Deaf. We are also survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Together we make up the Project EMERGE Advisory Group. We began in this Advisory Group as strangers, but now consider one another family. Until this project, our experiences of trauma and having a disability or being Deaf carried so much negativity. Project EMERGE has allowed us to turn our troubling experiences into a positive for others in our community.

In the beginning, with so much raw emotion, it was difficult to discuss our experiences of abuse, many of which we tried to keep hidden. The Project EMERGE team wanted to know how our disability or our experience of being Deaf braided together with our abuse history. Before Project EMERGE, we either focused on the disability or the trauma but not how they were related.

We struggled, along with the staff, trying to figure out how we could accommodate all of our needs. We thought having people who were blind or Deaf in the same room would create confusion. Instead, it turned out to be a meaningful experience as we learned how to work with the interpreters and build a strong team. We found safety in talking. We shared our challenges in accessing services for people with disabilities or the Deaf who are victims of abuse. We may have similar disabilities but our needs are different.

As a result of working with project staff and other advisory board members, there has been an increased awareness in the community about accommodations for women with disabilities or those who are Deaf and victims of abuse. We are so proud to have been a part of creating and revising valuable educational resources. For example, a series of fully accessible videos describe how to recognize and avoid abuse as well as where to find support. A new assessment tool also helped ARISE and Vera House staff members assess their ability to provide accessible services.

We are delighted that these resources may be used by other programs across the country. As much as we have done and offered to Project EMERGE, being a part of this group has done so much more for us. We experienced bad things, thinking it was our fault, but when you hear the experiences of others, you realize that you are not alone. We feel empowered. Being part of Project EMERGE has been a healing process for us—an opportunity to grow as individuals and to make a difference in our community.

Fast facts:

•  Women with disabilities are at least twice as more likely to be raped as compared to women of the general population.

•  Eighty-three percent of women with a disability will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.