Impact Feature Issue on Aging and People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Elder Abuse Programs and Elders with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities


Nora Baladerian is Director of the Disability, Abuse & Personal Rights Project of Spectrum Institute, Los Angeles

Adults with intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities are at greater risk of abuse, neglect, and other violence against them than the general population. Annually, approximately 5 million adults with disabilities experience substantiated cases of abuse and neglect. As increasing numbers of adults with disabilities are becoming "elders," the need is growing for programs that prevent and respond to elder abuse to get good at outreach to this group and their families and caregivers, and become skilled at responding to their needs. The need is also growing for disability advocates and service providers, persons with disabilities, and their families to help elder abuse programs for the broader aging population create and deliver services and resources for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

What Elder Abuse Programs Can Do

The best outreach models engage in interdisciplinary collaboration, involving people with disabilities and disability specialists in the planning, design, and ongoing implementation of education, prevention, intervention, advocacy, and other services by elder abuse programs. Below are seven realistic, cost-effective activities that any elder abuse agency can employ to collaborate with community disability organizations, individuals with disabilities, and families in increasing knowledge, skills, and effectiveness in working with elders with intellectual, developmental and other disabilities:

  1. Be guided by the "Nothing about us without us" principle. This principle means that you involve people with disabilities in all phases of service delivery, including planning for the physical site; development of service delivery procedures, protocols and policies; board membership; and training activities.
  2. Practice inclusion in all phases and phrases. Include people with disabilities in all phases of service delivery, and in the phrases and images in all your materials stating who you serve and employ.
  3. Follow the spirit and the letter of ADA. Ensure that your program has full Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-guided accessibility that complies with both the spirit and letter of the law.
  4. Deliver disability awareness and sensitivity training to all staff. Prior to employment or within six weeks, ensure that all staff complete disability awareness and sensitivity training. Hold monthly meetings with disability service agencies to provide ongoing staff development for both organizations, rotating meetings between different disability-related agencies during the year.
  5. Use "CREDO" as your operating philosophy:
    • C- Compassion
    • R- Respect
    • E- Empathy
    • D- Dignity
    • O- Open-minded to needs of the individual
  6. Recognize when you don't know something and ask for help. Be aware when you run into a situation in which you "feel" you are in unknown territory. It is okay to not know information and to not have skills yet! It is not okay to generate new "techniques" without regard to how these may affect the individuals to whom you're providing services. Seek guidance from those more knowledgeable about elders with disabilities when you need it.
  7. Use the Web/listservs. Make sure your Web site is accessible to elders with intellectual, developmental and other disabilities (see the W3C accessibility guidelines ).Also make sure it has information addressing their needs, and is promoted in disability-related newspapers, newsletters, and Web sites. Join listservs to stay up to date and get help with elder and disability issues.

What Disability Organizations, Self-Advocates, and Families Can Do

It is also important that elders with disabilities, their families, service providers, and advocates engage with elder abuse programs to learn more about preventing and responding to potential abuse, and to assist the elder abuse programs to effectively reach individuals with disabilities. Collaboration is the key. Disability services agencies, as well as advocacy and self-advocacy organizations, can close the gap by inviting elder abuse response/prevention providers to their "inner circle." They can develop specialized service linkages with elder abuse organizations, invite victim advocates to their in-service trainings, place links to elder abuse services on their Web sites, co-host events, and participate in elder abuse efforts at the community and State levels. In addition, they can help develop or support professionals who bridge the gap, and request their consultation in linking agencies. They can also generate other ideas to strengthen the connections between elder abuse programs and people with disabilities through checking out resources such as the National Center on Elder Abuse.