Each March, Disability Awareness Month is celebrated throughout Indiana. Given that adults and children with disabilities represent slightly more than 19 percent of Indiana’s population, disability awareness is important for all of us. Led by the Indiana Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities, the goal of Disability Awareness Month is to increase awareness and promote independence, integration and inclusion of all people with disabilities.
Why is ICADV concerned about people with disabilities? Domestic violence is the use of power and control within an intimate relationship that threatens a person’s well being. Because they are often excluded from mainstream society, people who have disabilities are at a great risk for abuse.
- A significant portion of Indiana’s population has a disability—19% (Governor’s Council for People with Disability);
- Poverty, diminished economic opportunities, high unemployment rates, and weak health laws increase risk for perpetration and victimization of domestic and sexual violence (connecting the dots)[i];
- Sexual violence prevalence rates for people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities is estimated to be as low as 65% and high as 98% of the population over the course of a lifetime.[ii]
- There is no agreement on the prevalence rates, because statistics about people who have disabilities are largely not collected or reported to shared databases;
- The rate of all violent crimes against people with cognitive disabilities is 63%.[iii]
- In 2015, the poverty rate of working-age people with disabilities in IN was 26.3 percent (American Community Survey). People in poverty are at higher risk of violence across the lifespan;
- Among the six types of disabilities identified in the American Community Survey, the highest poverty rate was for people with “Cognitive Disability,” 34.0 percent. The lowest poverty rate was for people with “Hearing Disability,” 19.8 percent. (American Community Survey);
- While 86% of Hoosiers who have disabilities are covered by health insurance, 65% are on Medicaid or Medicare (American Community Survey) and are therefore low income or in poverty;
- Data collected about violence, such as the youth risk behavior surveillance survey (YRBS) or the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), does not include people on the margins who may not speak English or be at the required literacy level to take such a survey. People who communicate using ASL, a computer device or other means such as pointing, nodding, and shaking one’s head are left out of these surveys. In a simple search of the latest NISVS (2010) the word disability appears twice in sentences referring to the outcome of sexual and domestic violence and zero times in YRBS results published in 2016[iv]. For many people in America, disability is not a consequence of violence, but genetics or some other form of trauma, such as job-related injury, alcohol and drug addiction, and poverty or other environmental factors.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control up to 22% of the U.S. population has some type of disability and The National Service Inclusion Project estimates about 17% of Americans have “functional” disabilities and 29% of American families deal with disability in some form[v]—but both data sets are dated. 14% of Indiana’s total population lives with varying degrees of disability; 14.3% of females of all ages and 13.8% of males of all ages in Indiana report a disability and 5% of this population also have cognitive disabilities[vi]. People who have disabilities are people who matter.
[i] Wilkins et al., p. 8. Wilkins, N., Tsao, B., Hertz, M., Davis, R., Klevens, J. (2014). Connecting the Dots: An Overview of the Links Among Multiple Forms of Violence. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Oakland, CA: Prevention Institute.
[ii] Elman, A (2005). “Confronting the sexual abuse of women with disabilities.” National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women. Retrieved October 9, 2014 from: and Valenti-Hein, D. & Schwartz, L. (1995). The Sexual Abuse Interview for Those with Developmental Disabilities. Santa Barbara, CA: James Stanfield Company.
[iii] The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) (2015). Violence, Abuse and Bullying Affecting People with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities. Washington, D.C.: The Arc.
[iv] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12 — United States and Selected Sites, 2015. Surveillance Summaries. August 12, 2016. 65(9);1–202. A. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey United States 2015. Surveillance Summaries. June 10, 2016. 65(6);1–174; Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
[vi] Erickson, W., Lee, C., & von Schrader, S. (2016). “2014 Disability Status Report: Indiana.” Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Yang Tan Institute on Employment and Disability(YTI). Accessed online November 11, 2016 at; and Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2016). “Disability Statistics from the 2014 American Community Survey (ACS).” Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI).