Impact Feature Issue on Violence Against Women with Developmental or Other Disabilities
Promoting Violence-Free Relationships: Disability Services ASAP
Disability Services ASAP (A Safety Awareness Program) is an innovative, award-winning, statewide program in Texas designed to promote healthy and violence-free relationships for persons with disabilities. The program (formerly known as the Personal Safety Awareness Center) provides a comprehensive array of prevention and intervention services and is a replicable model for those interested in reaching out to women with disabilities, and preventing sexual, physical, emotional, and other types of interpersonal abuse faced by many.
In 1995, a local community needs assessment was conducted of disability service providers and family members. Respondents indicated a need for abuse prevention and sexuality education and supportive counseling services related to sexual abuse/assault for community members with disabilities. Disability Services ASAP was thus established.
The program’s services extend to children, youth, and adults with any type or severity of a disability, including persons who have physical, sensory, cognitive, psychiatric, developmental, acquired, or multiple disabilities. It also targets loved ones and it targets professionals in the disability and/or domestic violence, sexual assault, and other crisis fields. An advisory council of persons with disabilities and professionals guides current activities, program development, and expansion initiatives.
Disability Services ASAP offers education for adults with disabilities to prevent sexual abuse, to increase awareness of domestic and caregiver violence dynamics, to plan for personal safety, and to promote healthy relationships. Educational sessions are tailored to meet the needs of each group and address topics such as assertiveness, boundaries, sexuality, sexual harassment, community and personal safety, healthy intimate relationships, dating, etc. Educators present information in a direct, accurate, and respectful manner and encourage interaction and participation through discussion and role-playing activities.
Training relating to sexual abuse, caregiver abuse, and domestic violence prevention as well as sexuality education is available for families and professionals. This education provides an understanding of vulnerability factors related to abuse/violence faced by many individuals with disabilities, strategies for preventing abuse, techniques for providing abuse prevention and sexuality education, information on detecting and reporting abuse, and tactics to effectively support persons who are victimized.
The continuum of services includes free individual and group counseling for persons who have experienced sexual abuse/assault, domestic violence, or abuse by a caregiver. Counseling is designed to promote healing and recovery, to provide education to reduce the risk of future abuse, and to offer information to explore safe options and access necessary community resources.
Program staff also conduct presentations for professionals in the domestic violence and sexual assault fields on disability awareness and sensitivity, strategies for effectively serving survivors with disabilities, making services physically and programmatically accessible, and initiating targeted outreach to this under-served population. Crisis agencies often contact the program staff for guidance in competently serving individuals with disabilities.
Collaboration is an integral part of Disability Services ASAP. The program partners with Adult Protective Services to offer regional community trainings for disability service providers to promote awareness about issues relating to violence and abuse perpetrated against people with disabilities. Another cooperative relationship involves the program’s work with Deaf Abused Women and Children Advocacy Services (DAWCAS) to increase accessibility in shelters for persons who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing. Disability Services ASAP and DAWCAS co-developed customized American Sign Language interpreted videos for nine rural and urban domestic violence shelters.
Disability Services ASAP also offers a national resource library of materials relating to abuse/violence prevention, sexuality education, and healthy relationships for individuals with disabilities. Inventory includes approximately 350 items that are available for checkout in person or by mail. It has also developed Stop the Violence, Break the Silence, a training guide and resource kit for those wishing to initiate abuse prevention or intervention services for individuals with disabilities. The kit, which was pilot-tested by professionals in the disability, domestic violence, and sexual assault fields, provides materials necessary to prepare sexuality awareness or abuse prevention presentations to persons with disabilities, families, or professionals. It also offers directions for implementing an abuse prevention program within a crisis or disability service agency and a facilitator’s guide for offering support groups for survivors of domestic or caregiver abuse.
Through its efforts in Texas, Disability Services ASAP has provided education and counseling to nearly 4,000 individuals with disabilities, and through its entire array of resources and services has made substantial differences in the lives of individuals nationwide.