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HOPE of WNY collaboration aims to make domestic violence services accessible to disabled survivors

Two disabled Black people (a femme wearing compression gloves and a non-binary person in a power wheelchair) on a date. Both are illuminated by natural light coming through a window while they hold coffee mugs, sit, and chat.
Chona Kasinger
Disabled and Here
To protect the safety of domestic violence survivors assisted by The Family Justice Center and Community Services for Every1, we cannot use photos of actual program participants. This is a stock photo of two disabled Black people (a femme wearing compression gloves and a non-binary person in a power wheelchair) on a date. Both are illuminated by natural light coming through a window while they hold coffee mugs, sit, and chat.

Editor's Note: This article uses person-first and identity-first language interchangeably when describing people with disabilities/disabled people as a population. WBFO follows the National Center on Disability and Journalism's style guide, which can be found here.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men are abused by an intimate partner, annually. The numbers of individuals with disabilities are disproportionately higher than those without, however, they often go unreported or underserved due to ableism and a lack of accessible resources. However, two local non-profits are combatting this through a unique partnership.

Tiffany Pavone has spent decades working closely with disabled survivors of domestic violence. She says that abusers of disabled people are often also caregivers, which is one of the biggest reasons why people with disabilities are more likely to be a victim of domestic violence.

Tiffany Pavone has a short, straight brown hairstyle and is smiling at the camera. She is wearing a black blazer and necklace.
Tiffany Pavone
Tiffany Pavone is pictured in an undated headshot.

“So while it's always very difficult for anyone to remove themselves from a domestic violence situation, when it's someone that takes care of you for even your very most very basic needs, and sometimes very personal needs, that leaves you at a higher rate of potential victimization,” said Pavone, the director of victim services at Community Services for Every1.

Community Services for Every1 is a disability services agency that helps individuals who need assistance with social needs like employment, housing, and leaving abusive situations. Pavone is also the program director of Hope of WNY (Helping Others through Protection and Empowerment of WNY), a collaboration between Community Services for Every1 and the Family Justice Center that aims to make domestic violence services universally accessible.

“When we were looking back at our demographics and the communities that we needed to assist, we noticed, specifically those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, are at a much higher rate of victimization,” Pavone said.

The National Survey of Abuse of People with Disabilities states that over 70% of people with disabilities reported being abused by their partner. Pavone said domestic violence affects all communities of people in similar ways because of the power and control dynamic, however, it can also be different for those with disabilities for a multitude of reasons.

Zoe Gross, the Director of Advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, agrees with Pavone that often people with disabilities have their basic needs, like medication, medical devices, and transportation, taken away by their abuser.

“A lot of what you see is people who need help with activities of daily living, so things like food prep, showering chores around the house,” Gross said.

Pavone said two challenges to getting help if you have a disability, are being believed and finding accessible services. The attitude in situations where a disabled person is abused, neglected, or even murdered by their partner, loved one, or caregiver, often favors the abuser. Gross said that this idea of supporting the perpetrator comes heavily from how violence cases involving people with disabilities are portrayed in the media.

“When the victim has a disability the coverage is more likely to take a sympathetic attitude towards the murderer, and do things like talk about how difficult it was to care for the victim in the context of the murder,” Gross said.

Her research on filicide, or the murder of people by their loved ones, shows the need to remove ableism from the way we talk about violence.

“I think it's being mindful of covering up violence against people with disabilities in the same way that they would cover violence against people without disabilities," Gross said.

Making help accessible so people can leave abusive situations can be as simple as using plain language in conversation and resources or using pictures to depict the safety plan for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. Plain language benefits everyone in making resources accessible.

“That's why we focus on things like, all services should just be universally accessible. Everything should just be done in plain language,” Pavone said.

Pavone also adds that many situations go unreported when people with certain intellectual or developmental disabilities have a hard time navigating the criminal justice system. Community Services for Every1 is also addressing this issue using funding from the "Be Safe" grant. They've partnered with law enforcement to help with communication barriers in domestic violence cases with a disabled victim.

Through these services, survivors can find independence again.

“We also help them sometimes maybe regain some skills that they lost because of the abuse, to be able to be fully independent and self-sufficient on their own,” Pavone said. “No matter who walks through the door, whether they want to acknowledge a disability or not, they can access those services.”

Two people, one with a short haircut, one with long hair tied back and under a baseball cap, wear aprons as they cook a dish. The short-haired person is pouring hot sauce into a metal bowl. They are both wearing masks. Behind them is a whiteboard that says "February Buffalo Chicken Wing."
Community Services for Every1
Participants of a program from Community Services for Every1 cook a dish with hot sauce. Editor's Note: Individuals pictured are not known clients of the domestic violence program. This is a stock photo of the agency's other programs, which are also available to domestic violence survivors.

If you or anyone you know is in need of help or domestic violence survivor services, call the twenty-four-hour hotline for Family Justice Center at 716-558-7233 or call Community Services for Every1 directly at 716-949-6678.