Specialist family violence services have a responsibility to provide inclusive, equitable and accessible services to all victim survivors, including people with disability.
Language is a powerful tool for building disability inclusion. Using inclusive language can help ensure people with disability feel safe, respected and confident to seek help. When working with victim survivors with disability, use positive, sensitive and strength-based language that demonstrates value and respect. Avoid words, phrases or tones that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped or discriminatory views of disability.
For tips on how to support women with disability through your language, refer to this poster by DVRCV and Women with Disabilities Victoria.
Other disability inclusion resources:
- The Disability Advocacy Resource Unit’s (DARU) guide on disability inclusivity and etiquette includes disability etiquette tips, information on how to refer to people with disability, and practical exercises to build your disability awareness and confidence.
Tips for building respectful dialogue with victim survivors with disability
Good communication is essential when helping anyone who is experiencing abuse. When supporting a victim survivor with disability, there are steps you can take to ensure they feel respected and can tell their story freely.
- Avoid making assumptions about the victim survivor, their strengths or abilities. Reflect on the assumptions you hold and challenge them.
- Be patient and take the time to understand their needs. If you are not sure how best to communicate with them, or if you need clarification, don’t be afraid to ask – remember they are the expert in their own needs.
- Some victim survivors will not self-identify with the term ‘disability’. Listen to what they say about themself.
- Develop a practice of emphasising how the service can be flexible to accommodate the victim survivor’s requirements.
- Keep questions simple and explanations easy to understand. Build your skills in summarising information into a few direct and specific points that are easy to remember.
- Be ready to take time to support the victim survivor to understand the possible outcomes of their choices. Repeat information as often as required.
- Be aware of when the victim survivor has reached their information saturation point. Too much detailed information can be difficult and overwhelming.
- If you are having trouble understanding a victim survivor because they have speech difficulties, admit it, and respectfully ask them to try again. People with disability rarely get upset if you are honest and respectful about your own limitations in understanding. Do not hesitate to ask the victim survivor questions about how best to communicate with them.
Depending on their disability, you may also need to take additional steps to create a respectful, flowing dialogue:
- Prioritise face-to-face appointments – this will maximise opportunities to build rapport and make it easier to adapt communication styles and/or aids as needed.
- Enlist an Auslan sign interpreter to communicate with someone who is deaf or has a hearing impairment, or a communication assistant if someone uses alternatives to speech communication. Be proactive – have contact details for these services readily available.
- Use tools such as paper and a pen or a computer/phone screen to write out messages with people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment.
Asking questions about disability
It’s important to help victim survivors feel safe and confident to disclose their disability and any support needs they may have. Practitioners do not need to provide a diagnosis, but they can identify practical supports the victim survivor may need for personal care, medical support, shopping, keeping appointments, understanding documents, or decision making. A practitioner also needs to gain a detailed understanding of the ways a perpetrator can use a disability against a victim survivor.
However, some victim survivors may be hesitant to answer questions about their disability. This could be due to negative encounters, bias or discrimination they may have experienced while trying to access services, or fears their perpetrator may have instilled. When seeking assistance for family violence, victim survivors are focused on the violence rather than their disability and may want their practitioners to do the same. This is not resistance. It may be that questions about their disability have led to conscious or unconscious bias and discrimination in the past.
For these reasons, it’s crucial that you reassure victim survivors with disability that you are there to help them navigate their options for safety, including any practical supports they may need.
Making information accessible
Using plain English
Plain English is a way of presenting information using clear, uncomplicated language.
Providing service information in plain English can improve access for people with low literacy, as well as people for whom English is an additional language. Writing information in plain English also makes it easier to translate into other languages, and to read when translated.
26TEN, a network of people and organisations working together to improve literacy and numeracy rates in Tasmania, has developed a comprehensive guide called ‘Communicate Clearly’.
Using Easy English
Easy English can be used to make written resources accessible to people with low English literacy, including people with intellectual disability or traumatic brain injury. It involves using plain language, blank spaces and images to communicate only the key points of a document.
Organisations that offer accessible information services including translating materials into Easy English:
Accessible information on family violence and sexual assault
Family violence and sexual assault services need to provide information in a way that is accessible for victim survivors with disability. For people with cognitive disability, Easy English and plain English resources are vital.
Easy English and plain English factsheets, tools and other resources
The Making Rights Reality program at South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence (SECASA) has created Easy Read resources related to sexual assault (including sexual assault in the context of family violence). You can access these resources on the SECASA website. Key resources include:
- Sexual Assault and Family Violence: Getting Help
- Making a Statement to Police
- Sexual Assault: When Sex is Not Ok
- Going to Court
- Crisis Care after Sexual Assault.
Victoria Police has created several relevant Easy English resources:
1800RESPECT has developed a Disability Support Toolkit that includes several Easy English booklets and factsheets.