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Taking a Stand for People with Disabilities

August 13, 2014

Schizoaffective-Disorder-and-Substance-AbuseStatistically speaking, it is likely that you have a disability or know someone who does.

While you are probably aware of the daily challenges people with disabilities face, you might be less understanding of the abuse and mistreatment that plagues this population. On the other hand, you might be all too aware of it.

Recognizing mistreatment, identifying its effects on the community and taking a stand for people with disabilities is the only way to stop abuse.

People of all ability levels are responsible for bringing about proper treatment of people with disabilities, but in order to abolish abuse completely, we need to work together.

Recognize Mistreatment of People with Disabilities

The People’s Law School in Vancouver defines abuse this way:

Abuse is anything that causes harm to an individual. Abuse can be physical, sexual, psychological/emotional, or economic/financial.

People with disabilities are often considered “vulnerable.” This term is not meant to put anyone down. It is used rather to raise awareness that perpetrators might target this demographic.

Therefore, anytime a caregiver or assisting service is elected to oversee the wellbeing of a person with disability, it is important that we are alert to any physical and behavioural signs of mistreatment.

               Physical Signs of Mistreatment*:

      • Unexplained injuries, pain or bruising
      • Delay in seeking treatment
      • Over-sedation
      • Stained, torn or missing clothes
      • Change in sexual behaviour
      • Pregnancy
      • Sexually transmitted diseases

Behavioral Signs of Mistreatment*:

      • Behavioural extremes like mood swings and hyperactivity
      • Unusual fear
      • Avoidance of certain settings
      • Fear of intervention
      • Depression
      • Sleep disturbance
      • Eating disturbance
      • Withdrawal
      • Excessive crying spells
      • Excessive weight loss or gain
      • Poor self-esteem
      • Self-destructive behaviour

* Lists originate in The People’s Law School’s “Abuse of People with Disabilities” guide.

By noticing signs of abuse early, it is possible to prevent future attacks and further emotional pain. If we ban together in raising awareness of abuse in the disability community, it could make it more difficult for abusers to target this “vulnerable” population.

How to Stop Abuse of People with Disabilities

Beyond recognizing abuse, it is important that we put a stop to the mistreatment of people with disabilities. The best way to create an environment where abuse is rare, if not absent, is to empower people with disabilities.

In this sense, people with disabilities need to feel empowered to participate in community settings, have control over life decisions, operate independently, and feel comfortable exercising basic human rights.

Still, signs of abuse may appear. In situations like this, it is important to enter honest dialogue with the victim. Ask questions like,

  • Are you okay? Is someone hurting you?
  • Is there someone I can contact who will help you?
  • How can I help you?

In order for the abused person to answer these questions, he or she needs to trust you and the environment you are in. In a clean and quite space, allow him or her to fully open up, telling you the entire story. Validate this individual’s feelings by thanking him or her for sharing.

As the time of sharing wraps up, it is appropriate to propose action steps. List available, safe options and emphasize the importance of getting help. Nevertheless, allow the individual to make a personal decision on how to move forward. Assure the person with disability that you are available to help in whatever ways you can and that you will have to report the abuse if you feel his or her safety is at risk.

Taking a stand for people with disabilities begins with recognizing the prevalence of abuse and mistreatment that invades this community. If ever you approach someone who you believe is the victim of abuse, don’t hesitate to have a conversation with the individual or report it to an authority that can help. Don’t be afraid to take a stand.

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