Disability communities

Anyone can be affected by dating abuse, but people with disabilities are more likely to experience abuse than people without disabilities. Abuse is about power and control, and people with disabilities may face unique barriers to accessing support.


Dating abuse intersects with disability in four key ways

according to the Equal Rights Center:

Abuse can cause temporary or permanent disability.

People with disabilities experience higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse.

Violence, assault, and abuse against people with disabilities often takes on non-traditional forms.

People with disabilities face additional barriers when seeking help.

While the warning signs of abuse are the same for everyone, people with disabilities often experience non-traditional forms of abuse from abusive partners, including:

  • Telling you that you “aren’t allowed” to have a pain flare up.
  • Stealing or withholding your Social Security Disability check.
  • Telling you that you’re a bad parent or can’t be a parent because of your disability.
  • Invalidating your disability by claiming that you’re “faking it.”
  • Using your disability in an effort to shame or humiliate you.
  • Refusing to help you complete necessary life tasks after previously agreeing to, including using the bathroom or dispensing medication.
  • Withholding or threatening to withhold medication, or over-medicating or mixing medications in a dangerous or non-prescribed way.
  • Sexual activity if your disability makes you incapable of giving consent.
  • Withholding, damaging, or destroying assistive devices.
  • Preventing you from seeing a doctor.
  • Threatening to “out” your disability to others if it’s non-visible or carries social stigma.
  • Harming or threatening to harm your service animal.
  • Using your disability as a justification for the abusive partner’s own behavior.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides for certain legal requirements intended to benefit people with disabilities. First adopted in 1990, the ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.”

While this definition and legislation is ultimately just a starting point for legal protections serving people with disabilities, the ADA does include certain stipulations that directly affect survivors with disabilities: under Title II, social services like domestic violence shelters must be accessible for people with disabilities; Title III covers accessibility for public accommodations, which generally means anywhere open to the public including offices for counseling, legal, or translation services, doctors’ offices, and other shelters.

As a result, such public spaces are required by law to meet the following accessibility criteria:

Admit people with disabilities.

People with disabilities must have an equal opportunity to benefit from programs, services, and activities, including shelter services. They must be treated equally and may not be excluded from shelters of the basis of disability. That includes survivors of abuse who may have mental health disabilities or HIV.

Provide reasonable accommodations.

Alterations to policies, practices, or procedures allow a program or shelter to provide people with disabilities with the same services as those without disabilities. Reasonable accommodations must be made unless they entail significant difficulty or expense. For example, a shelter could adjust a pet policy to admit an individual with a service dog.

Eliminate structural barriers to access.

The ADA mandates that buildings be made free of structural barriers for people with disabilities. Newer buildings will take this into consideration during construction, but because certain exceptions may be made on the basis of significant difficulty or expense, older buildings may sometimes still have significant structural barriers to access (like a lack of elevators in a building).

Disabilities are varied, and the ways they intersect with dating abuse may appear in many different forms. We’ve included further resources for survivors with disabilities below, and our advocates are available 24/7 by text, phone, or live chat to discuss your situation and help you identify local services and resources.

Note: our advocates are mandatory reporters of abuse for people with disabilities. That means if confidentiality is a concern for you, it’s advisable not to disclose identifying information when you contact us.

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