People with disabilities have always had a voice. We’re just teaching the world different ways to listen.
A disability victim services agency

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Watching for abuse during this time of isolation

March 31, 2020

By AACs Executive Director Katherine Yoder, MS, CFI

An older white man with cerebral palsy uses his hand to touch the screen of his assistive technology deviceAs our society moves from a community setting into one of isolation, there are many invisible repercussions for individuals with disabilities. One of the most concerning is the very high likelihood that abuse of individuals with disabilities will increase and reporting of the alleged abuse will decrease.

For people with disabilities who live in abusive environments, these days of sheltering in place are not merely an inconvenience. They are instead a time of being confined to a prison of unwitnessed trauma. When you can no longer go to your day program, your job, to school or out with friends, other people are no longer there to see the marks and signs of physical abuse. No one is there to notice the behavioral changes that may be associated with sexual abuse. No one is around to see the signs of severe neglect. This absence of community engagement results in no one witnessing that your abuser turned off your communication or mobility device, in an act of power and control. The lack of communication can silence the words, “Help me.”

But we can reach out to help people with disabilities and let them know they are not forgotten or even give them a lifeline if they are being abused. Here are some practical ways you can help:

Come up with a “safe” word

This seems simplistic, but it can be very useful in environments where communication or communication devices are monitored. For people who communicate in a very concrete manner, it may be useful to have one word that is used in situations where they need help. The use of a “safe” word can result in a call to the local police department, where you can request a “well check” to ensure that the person is safe, if you believe they are a victim of abuse or neglect.

Provide additional chargers or batteries

For people who communicate through assistive technology, the loss of electronic connection can be devastating. It is essential that additional chargers or batteries, if that is what the device requires, are available to ensure that communication is not interrupted. It also eliminates the excuse abusers sometimes use that the person cannot communicate because their charger is broken or lost.

Make a safety plan

Safety planning is often associated with victim services, but it can also be used in disability services. It essentially allows a person with a disability to come up with a step-by-step plan to prepare for potentially unsafe situations. This planning helps the person problem solve, identify support people, find different ways to get help, and feel empowered. Adult Advocacy Centers will be releasing safety planning templates in the coming weeks, along with a guide to learn more about the process.

Stay in constant contact

During this time of isolation, it is important to reach out to others to maintain connections. These connections can be very powerful for people who have limited interactions. You can use FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or another video platform to communicate. These platforms are very helpful because you can actually see the person and may be more likely to observe their behavior. Of course, not everyone has access to devices that allow for video interaction, so even without a camera, a phone call helps breaks up the day and is a reminder that they are not alone.

Abuse thrives in isolation and it does not discriminate. But isolation also doesn’t mean that a person is completely alone. If you suspect someone with a disability is being abused or neglected, please contact the appropriate agency below. If you are not sure who to call or are afraid that the person is in immediate danger, please reach out to the police.

Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities

Report Abuse page
Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 866-313-6733
File a report online

County Boards of Developmental Disabilities

Find Your County Board
Search for the county board and call the MUI reporting line

Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services

Client Rights and Advocacy Resources
Toll-Free Bridge Line: 877-275-6364
Note: OhioMHAS only investigates incidents that happen inside their licensed facilities. For incidents in the community, please call the police.

Regional Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Boards

Find your ADAMH Board
Find local Client Rights Officers

Ohio Department of Health

Abuse, Neglect, Misappropriation and Exploitation Complaint Line: 614-752-8805
File a complaint against a health care facility or nursing home
Online complaint form

Ohio Department of Aging

Ohio Adult Protective Services Line: 855-644-6277
For suspected abuse at a nursing home or assisted living facility, call the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman: 800-282-1206
Find a Regional Long-Term Care Ombudsman Office

Disability Rights Ohio

Intake Department: 800-282-9181, Press option 5 and leave a voicemail
Online Intake Form

Adult Protective Services

OhioHOPES Help Line: 800-411-2267