Accessibility. Being accessible to crime victims with disabilities and crime victims who are Deaf means working with your staff, board, and volunteers to remove any barriers to services. True accessibility includes the following:
- Holding training and discussion sessions to increase staff awareness and comfort in working with persons with various disabilities and people who are Deaf.
- Ensuring that agency policies and procedures are welcoming, such as routinely providing American Sign Language interpreters and allowing personal care attendants and service animals to accompany persons with disabilities to crisis shelters or other confidential settings.
- Developing a welcoming atmosphere for persons with a range of disabilities, such as including statements about your commitment to accessibility and standard symbols (e.g., wheelchair logo, interpreter symbol) in agency materials.
Americans with Disabilities Act. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 to guarantee persons with disabilities equal opportunity in and access to employment, public accommodations (which include domestic violence and sexual assault centers and other victim service agencies), and government services (among others). According to the ADA, the same goods, benefits, and services must be available to all people, regardless of the type or severity of any disability.
Consumer. A term commonly used for persons with disabilities in the disability field is consumer, meaning people who consume services. Consumers have choices. The term avoids some of the complications and negative implications of the words victim and survivor. It also has its own connotations, in that it separates persons with disabilities from persons without disabilities. In the context of this guide, the term consumer is not currently used by law enforcement or survivor or victim services. The most uniformly equalizing words for all groups in any context are simply people or person.
Deaf culture.The word Deaf is capitalized throughout this guide, and the phrase “people who are Deaf” is often kept distinct in places from “persons with disabilities.” These two deliberate choices were made out of respect for the many people who are Deaf who identify themselves primarily as members of the tight-knit Deaf culture and who do not feel that being Deaf is a disability. The topic of whether being Deaf is a disability or not is controversial even among people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Some people who identify as culturally Deaf (with a capital D) do not believe it is a disability because they can function well with technology; some people who are Deaf believe that missing one of five senses does constitute a disability; and yet others believe it is the lack of accommodations and flexibility by the hearing community that makes being Deaf a disability.
Disability.1 According to the ADA, an individual with a disability has a “physical or mental impairment” that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of having such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. The definition of disability was expanded in 2008 under the ADA Amendments Act. Major life activities are now defined as—
- General life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. This category is broad, but examples might include intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities (disabilities that develop before age 21, such as cerebral palsy or Down syndrome), cystic fibrosis, blindness or low vision, Deaf or hard of hearing, spinal cord injury, and so forth.
- Major bodily functions, such as functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, and digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions. Examples of disabilities in this category include cancer, AIDS, diabetes, and heart disease.
Further, a person is still considered to have a disability even if the impairment—
- Is treatable with medication (e.g., mental illness, diabetes).
- Can be addressed with the help of assistive technology (e.g., prosthetics for missing limbs, power wheelchairs).
- Happens intermittently if the condition would be substantially limiting when active (e.g., seizure disorder, some forms of mental illness).
- Is in remission if the condition would be substantially limiting when active (e.g.,multiple sclerosis, cancer).
Modifications (or accommodations). Modifications refer to the steps agencies can take to allow each person with disabilities to receive services. Some modifications are general: wheelchair ramps, forms available in large print, and so forth. Other modifications are individual: a person with active symptoms of mental illness may want to sit facing the door during counseling sessions; a person who has a cognitive disability may need a clear explanation of the forms and releases he or she is required to fill out.
Partner, partnership. Unless otherwise noted in the text, these terms refer to project partners and could include members of collaborative partnerships or advisory committees.
People-first language. People-first language is intended to draw attention to the fact that persons with disabilities are people, first and foremost. It addresses the fact that our culture has traditionally treated persons with disabilities as less than human. It identifies all people as people first and avoids offensive terms such as handicapped, crazy, Deaf and dumb, crippled, challenged, retarded, or suffering from. It is respectful to say “the woman with the disability” rather than “the disabled woman” or “the handicapped woman”; “the woman with a diagnosis of mental illness” rather than “the schizophrenic”; and “student with a disability” instead of “special needs student.” However, we encourage you to refer to a person’s disability only if necessary and to respect how individual people prefer to identify themselves.
Survivor. This term is likely to have different meanings for the mental health field and for victim services workers. Some people who have a psychiatric label refer to themselves as “surviving” mental health systems. Within the domestic violence or rape crisis fields, an individual who has left a violent relationship or a person who has been sexually assaulted may refer to herself or himself as a survivor.
Victim. This term is commonly used by law enforcement agencies and some victim service programs. Some domestic and sexual violence and other service agencies avoid the word victim altogether because of its implications of passivity. Others believe that people who have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault are victimized and, through healing, become survivors. Disability rights activists may avoid the term because persons with disabilities have historically been described as victims of their disabilities.