WomensLaw serves and supports all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.

About Abuse

Abuse Among People with Disabilities

Updated: May 14, 2024

What challenges can I face when reporting abuse?

Getting help and reporting the abuse is not easy, especially if you rely upon the abuser for help with daily life activities. Studies estimate that between 70% and 85% of cases of abuse against disabled adults go unreported.1 It may be challenging to report the abuse to the police or the court because:

  • you may fear not being believed since the signs of abuse may not be obvious to others;
  • you may experience feelings of embarrassment, guilt, or shame;
  • you may be afraid of losing your home or your independence, especially if the abuser is your caregiver or an intimate partner;
  • it may be hard for you to find help or access resources;
  • there may be communication barriers, especially if you are in the Deaf community;
  • service providers may have limited knowledge about your needs and abuse; or
  • the abuser may be well-known and respected.2

1 Domestic violence and disabilities, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
2 Facts & Resources on Abuse of Women with Disabilities, American Psychological Association

What are some unique barriers that I may face when trying to find help?

As a person with a disability, it may be hard for you to find help because you may face barriers that other victims may not. Some particular barriers you may experience are: 

  • physical and social isolation, particularly in institutional settings, which can lead to a lack of knowledge about available services and resources, as well as a lack of awareness of legal rights;
  • limited access to services due to a lack of resources, transportation, or physical barriers at service locations;
  • lack of the skills or abilities that would be needed to seek help independently;
  • lack of access to information about domestic violence services that are tailored to your needs or that are available in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, or audio tapes;
  • the risk of losing your only source of care, if you report the abuse by your primary caretaker;
  • the possibility of facing institutionalization or loss of decision-making rights if seen as unable to care for yourself without the help of the abuser;
  • a greater risk of losing custody of your children if you are viewed as being unable to care for children independently from an abusive caretaker;
  • the justice system’s prejudice against victims with disabilities can deny you access to justice in the courts;
  • limited self-advocacy and access to decision-making processes;
  • belief in the myth that you cannot make choices or determine for yourself what is best for you in all areas of life, including physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, political, sexual, and financial; and
  • the perception that you are “suffering” and that people need to be kind to you rather than extending legal rights and protections, as with other oppressed groups.1

1 Domestic violence and disabilities, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Guidry Tyiska, C., Working with Victims of Crime with Disabilities, Office for Victims of Crime

Can I get a restraining order against the abuser?

One tool that can be helpful if you are trying to escape from domestic violence is a restraining order, also known as a protection order, injunction, etc. A restraining order can provide many forms of protection and can order an abuser to:

  • stop all contact;
  • stay away; 
  • leave the home; and
  • do, or stop doing, other things the judge orders to keep the petitioner safe.

If the behavior continues, it could be a violation of the restraining order. If you call the police or file a violation petition in court, the abuser could be arrested or punished in some other way.

Anyone can file for a restraining order if s/he has been the victim of one of the qualifying acts of abuse included in the state’s laws. In our Restraining Orders section, you can look for the legal definition of domestic violence in your state. Note that some states also have restraining orders to protect individuals with disabilities or the elderly specifically.

If you have specific questions about your state’s laws or your legal situation, you can reach us through our Email Hotline.

Where can I find additional resources?

If you need more information or help, here are some resources that may be helpful. If you believe some of these can support you, please reach out to them to see what information or services they offer:

  • National Deaf Domestic Violence Hotline (NDDVH) is available to Deaf callers nationwide, answering videophone calls and emails 24/7. Deaf advocates, because of their experience working in the field of domestic violence for Deaf survivors and their extensive training, are uniquely able to provide crisis intervention, education, information, and referrals for Deaf callers.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Information Line: 800-514-0301 or 833-610-1264 (TTY). Funded by the Department of Justice to provide information about the ADA, callers can ask how the ADA may apply to their situation.
  • Disabled American Vets, 877-426-2838 or DAV.org, assists veterans and their families regarding finding benefits, transitioning to civilian life, and offering support to underserved populations.
  • For the Alzheimer’s Association Helpline, you can call 800-272-3900 or 711, or visit alz.org to chat with a member of the Helpline staff.    
  • End Abuse of People with Disabilities activates people and organizations across movements to end violence against people with disabilities and Deaf people through a shared, intersectional framework.
  • The Arc promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.1
  • Barrier Free Living is an agency committed to providing safe shelter and support services to survivors of domestic violence with disabilities.

1 Kippert, A., A guide to domestic violence and disabilities, Domesticshelters.org (2023)