Abuse and vulnerability

Abuse is a significant issue for people with developmental disabilities, and as a group they are regarded as vulnerable people in most jurisdictions. Common types of abuse include:

  • Physical abuse (withholding food, hitting, punching, pushing, etc.)
  • Neglect (withholding help when required, e.g., assistance with personal hygiene)
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological or emotional abuse (verbal abuse, shaming and belittling)
  • Constraint and restrictive practices (turning off an electric wheelchair so a person cannot move)
  • Financial abuse (charging unnecessary fees, holding onto pensions, wages, etc.)
  • Legal or civil abuse (restricted access to services)
  • Systemic abuse (denied access to an appropriate service due to perceived support needs)
  • Passive neglect (a caregiver’s failure to provide adequate food, shelter)

Lack of education, lack of self-esteem and self-advocacy skills, lack of understanding of social norms and appropriate behaviour and communication difficulties are strong contributing factors to the high incidence of abuse among this population.

In addition to abuse from people in positions of power, peer abuse is recognised as a significant, if misunderstood, problem. Rates of criminal offending among people with developmental disabilities are also disproportionately high, and it is widely acknowledged that criminal justice systems throughout the world are ill-equipped for the needs of people with developmental disabilities (as both perpetrators and victims of crime).


Developmental Disability

Developmental disability is a term used in the United States to describe life-long, disabilities attributable to mental and/or physical impairments, manifested prior to age 18. The term is used most commonly in the United States to refer to disabilities affecting daily functioning in three or more of the following areas:

  • capacity for independent living
  • economic self-sufficiency
  • learning
  • mobility
  • receptive and expressive language
  • self-care
  • self-direction

The term first appeared in U.S. law in 1970, when Congress used the term to describe the population of individuals who had historically been placed in state institutions, in its effort to improve conditions in these dehumanizing facilities, “The Developmental Disabilities Services and Facilities Construction Act of 1970”. The law has since been amended many times, and now calls for the full community inclusion and self-determination of people with developmental disabilities.

Frequently, people with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, various genetic and chromosomal disorders such as Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome, and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder are described as having developmental disabilities. This use of the term is synonymous with the use of the term learning difficulty in the United Kingdom, and intellectual disability in Australia, Europe, Canada and elsewhere. Cognitive disability is also used synonymously in some jurisdictions.

Developmental disabilities are usually classified as severe, profound, moderate or mild, as assessed by the individual’s need for supports, which may be lifelong.


Advocacy is a burgeoning support field for people with developmental disabilities. Advocacy groups now exist in most jurisdictions, working collaboratively with people with disabilities for systemic change (such as changes in policy and legislation) and for changes for individuals (such as claiming welfare benefits or when responding to abuse). Most advocacy groups also work to support people, throughout the world, to increase their capacity for self-advocacy, teaching the skills necessary for people to advocate for their own needs

My Personal Opinion On The Way People Look At Individuals With Disabilites

We as a Society have a habit of looking at Individuals who are different from ourselves as “not normal”, who are we to define who or what is considered “normal”?

We all have some sort of disability, whether it be we talk to fast or to slow, maybe we have troubles hearing things, writing, or maybe the way we interact with others etc.

I personally view all individuals as unique and it may only be my opinion but I feel that if we judge everyone that is different from what we consider to be “normal” when will that judgment turn back on ourselves?

Being an advocate for individuals with disabilities is a very rewarding task, for someone who has no one to stand up for them or just needs someone else to help, and advocate can have a positive impact on the lives of those whom they help.

I was given the opportunity to be an advocate for someone with severe mental disabilities and i was more than willing to be there for her every step of the way. The individual i was an advocate for could not speak so she voiced what she wanted through sign language (she did not know sign language so between her and myself, we developed signs so that she could communicate with me) and i fought for everything she wanted. Her wants and dreams to many of us might have been small but to her they were her whole life. All she wanted was the right to go swimming or to the movies etc, basically she wanted the right to live, and after many of months of fighting the community as well as her family, we achieved her goals and dreams! Today she is happy, i check on her every now and then and she still communicates with me in her own specials way. Her parents have also informed me that she is in better shape than she has ever been and they have never seen her smile so much!

Just knowing that i helped an individual with disabilities achieve her wants and dreams (however little we might see them), that is a big enough reward for me…

The next time you see someone who needs help, whether they have a disability or not, ask them if you can lend a hand. Watch the smile that comes across that individuals face. Just knowing that someone is willing to lend a hand, and that someone out there cares, can improve someone’s life in ways that are without words.

Evoloution Of A Movement

Historically, disabilities have often been cast in a negative light. An individual thus affected was seen as being a “patient” subject either to cure or to ongoing medical care. His/her condition is seen as disabling; the social reactions to it are justified, and the barriers unavoidable. This position is known as the medical model of disability.

Over the past 20 years, a competing view known as the social model of disability has come to the fore. In this model, disability is seen more as a social construction than a medical reality. An individual may be impaired by a condition that requires daily living adaptations, but the bulk of his problem – his/her disability – can be found in the attitudinal and physical barriers erected by society.

Both the medical and social models agree, to a point, that facilities and opportunities should be made as accessible as possible to individuals who require adaptations. Dismantling physical barriers, or setting up adaptations such as wheelchair ramps, is known as “fostering accessibility”.

Disability advocates speak out in support of Avery Ottenbreit

I read this article on Canada.com and I wanted to share it with you because it is just another example of how more of us need to be more understanding and compasionate towards others that have a disability of any kind. This article was very touching and I believe that many out there will appreciate it for what it has to offer.

One day after Avery Ottenbreit’s return to the Queen City, disability advocates in Saskatchewan spoke out in support of the Regina teenager.

The 15-year-old quadriplegic’s trip home from Ottawa was delayed because of WestJet’s refusal to allow her to fly using her personal comfort harness.

Michael Richter, the executive director of the South Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre, was upset that WestJet delayed Avery’s trip because the airline deemed the harness unsafe for air travel.

“I would go as far to say that Avery’s harness would definitely be considered a personal disability aid,” Richter said Friday. “The denial of its use could be considered discriminatory under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“WestJet contends that it was a safety issue for her to be flying, but if the plane was going down I think the last worry on other passengers’ minds would be that the disabled girl’s seat might be dangerous. Meanwhile, the airline serves alcohol on its flights knowing full well that some passengers might require a cab when the plane has landed.”

Faith Bodnar, the executive director for the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living, echoed Richter’s feelings.

“I think that by making this decision, WestJet needs to realize that this is a human rights issue with her rights to travel and they have a duty to accommodate her,” said Bodnar. “Unless they want to recognize her rights as any Canadian citizen to travel and the duty to accommodate her, they risk having these kinds of things taken through the courts.”

WestJet officials were unavailable for comment.

Avery and her family hope that the whole ordeal will serve as a lightning rod to spark the debate for accessibility in airplanes for people with disabilities.

“Before Avery left Ottawa she briefly talked to Steven Fletcher,” Randy Ottenbreit, Avery’s father, said in reference to the quadriplegic MP of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia in Manitoba.

“One of the things he said to her was, ‘Don’t worry, you will fly again.’ ”

Because she was barred from flying on a commercial flight, Avery was flown home on an air ambulance paid for by WestJet. It arrived in the early hours of Friday morning, ending a long day of stressful waiting by Avery in Ottawa.

At home, Avery was just happy to be back in her parents care. Her ordeal was one that would be dreaded by any seasoned traveller, let alone one with cerebral palsy flying by herself for the first time.

Avery had been in Ottawa since June 27 at an Active Living Alliance conference for Youth with Disabilities. Avery had flown on an airplane before she travelled to Ottawa, but on this trip she was unaccompanied by her parents.

When Avery travels she uses a harness to hold herself up in her seat to stay comfortable because she has no control of the trunk of her body.

Avery was able to fly to Ottawa using the harness, but on the return trip she encountered an obstacle that proved incredibly troublesome.

When WestJet deemed the harness unsafe for air travel and refused to let her fly home on its commercial flight, Avery was left in Ottawa with only her travelling companion, Nicole Butlin, for company.

As a precocious young woman, Avery was very upset at being left behind and not being able to see her parents.

On Friday, at home, she was brought to tears at the mere thought of her frightening experience.

“I just wanted to come home,” she said. “In Ottawa we did rock climbing and tubing, but after that I wanted to see my parents.”


People With Disabilities Want To Live Life

People with disabilities live in a world designed primarily for the able-bodied. People with disabilities want to live life no differently than anyone else. They want to be able to go shopping, go to the movies, go out to eat, work, and enjoy life, fully realizing that must be done within the boundaries of their limitations.

Adapt and adjust becomes the mantra of a person living with a disability. People with disabilities may be forced to change careers or not work at all. They may be forced to relinquish some of their independence.

There are experiences some able-bodied people may take for granted which people with disabilities must forgo. Disabled people may miss out on:

  • the joy of rough-housing with children
  • playing competitive sports
  • traveling
  • long road-trips

What can be more frustrating than harsh realities are subtle realities for people with disabilities. Living with disability is difficult but can sting even more when people encountered are:

  • impatient
  • rude
  • insensitive
  • inconsiderate
  • pessimistic
  • unhelpful

Impatient people try to rush people with disabilities through life.

Inconsiderate people can be found using handicapped bathroom stalls and handicapped parking spots, facilities specifically designated for people with disabilities. Inconsiderate people do not hold doors open, a simple action that can make things much easier for a disabled person.

Rude and insensitive people are often found staring at people with disabilities. They seem to not like what they see, or imagine themselves in the role of the disabled person. It creates an uncomfortable situation unless you ignore the person who is staring.

Demanding people and those who lack understanding about the realities of your disability can also be provoking.

Pessimistic people can annoy and be hurtful. Pessimistic people focus on the negative aspects of having a disability instead of trying to build up, encourage, and praise the accomplishments of people with disabilities. Pessimistic or negative people don’t want to learn about the realities of living with disability. They have preconceived ideas and often treat physically disabled people as if they are faking or lazy. Even worse, negative people sometimes treat physically disabled people as if they have no abilities at all.

Unhelpful people are yet another category of people who can annoy and frustrate disabled people. For able-bodied people, most tasks are effortless. The same task for a disabled person is perhaps an impossibility. Changing lightbulbs or air conditioner filters, scrubbing showers, getting a large load of groceries – it’s just part of daily living.

What you can control, whether you are able-bodied or disabled, is yourself. All humans face challenges, it’s just that people with disabilities face different challenges. You will not rid the world of impatient, rude, insensitive people, but you can control how you react to them.

  • Impatient people cause you to be more patient.
  • Insensitive people cause you to be more sensitive.
  • Negative people cause you to react with positivity.

For each negative person you encounter, you have many more positive encounters. Surround yourself with people, things, and experiences which make you feel good and do good.

After all, just because you have a disability does not mean you deserve any less!

Getting To Know A Disabled Person

When you first meet someone who is blind, deaf, or in a wheelchair, what is your initial reaction? Curiosity? Sympathy? Awkwardness? If you experience any of these emotions, you are not alone. Chances are you don’t regularly associate with someone who is disabled, so these feelings are quite common.

My best friend whom i have known for many many years has been blind since birth, I have watched her encounter a wide range of reactions, from curious stares when she walked down the street with a cane or holding someone’s arm, to amazement at being able to feed and dress herself. Most people don’t intend to be rude or insensitive, but just aren’t sure what to expect. Here are four points to keep in mind if you should happen to meet a disabled person.

1. Disabled people can lead active lives. With few exceptions, a disability does not prevent someone from working, raising a family, or taking part in social activities. Many sports and recreation programs have been adapted to accommodate a person with a disability, including baseball, golf, water skiing, biking, and swimming. Instead of concentrating on the disability, look at the person the same way you would any other acquaintance.

2. It’s all right to ask questions. Many people are afraid of offending someone by asking about their disability. When meeting anyone for the first time, it’s natural to be curious about who they are, where they’re from, and what they do for a living.

The same is true for a disabled person. Asking questions is usually acceptable, as long as you use common sense. Don’t, for example, ask a blind person how he/she feeds and bathes himself/herself. Instead, find out what equipment or techniques he uses in his/her job and at home, how he/she gets around town, how does Braille work, etc.

3. Offer assistance when necessary. You see a woman in a wheelchair having trouble entering a building or negotiating steps. You’d like to help, but don’t want to embarrass her. What should you do?

It’s usually appropriate to lend a hand if someone is having obvious difficulty, but keep in mind that not everyone will be willing to accept your help. It’s not much different than pulling over and offering assistance to a motorist with a flat tire. Unless the woman in the wheelchair is in danger, it isn’t necessary to press the issue if they refuse your help. You did your part.

4. Remember that we all have obstacles to overcome. No matter who we are, each of us has a weakness or challenge to face. How do you feel when you are treated differently for being bald, short, or heavyset? Like you, a disabled person would much rather be accepted for who they are, rather than be pitied or shunned because of a disability.

Meeting someone with a disability doesn’t have to be an intimidating experience. Asking questions, offering assistance, and putting yourself in their shoes can go a long way toward recognizing them as people with normal thoughts and feelings who just happen to have a disability. Who knows? You might make some new friends in the process. I know I have…

Freedom Of Expression For Individuals With Disabilities

For many years now it has been the mission of Disability Advocates to protect and advance the rights of adults and children who have disabilities so that they can freely exercise their own life choices, enforce their rights, and fully participate in their community life.

Why is it that, just because some people see someone with a disability they think that they must not know what is best for them and they need someone to look out for them because they don’t really know what they want and what they really need? We forget that people are people and we all have wants, needs and dreams not matter if we have a disability or not. Having a disability does not take away from an individual being able to dream and feel. Sit back and look around you, if you had someone on an hourly basis telling you when you had to bath, go to the bathroom, when you had to sit, stand, eat, watch television, read a book etc, how would you feel? If someone took away your ability to dream, voice what you wanted to do that you haven’t yet, how would you feel? Then if you found some way to finally get across to someone what you wanted to do, what if they looked at you like you were crazy and said “you can’t do that, what if you get hurt, I’m just looking out for your best interests, really”, how bad would that break your spirits? There are some individuals with serious disability’s that are unable to make their own decisions and they do need someone to help make their decisions for them and I agree with that, but at what point does it change from looking out for that individuals best interests into living their life for them and no longer allowing them the right to an opinion on their own life.

Respect For Those With Disabilities

Henry (2007) explains; one reason that some people are uncomfortable around people with disabilities is that they’re afraid that they will “say the wrong thing”. However, that’s not a big deal to most people with disabilities. What’s important is that you respect the person and see them beyond their disability (Henry, 2007, p. 2). Henry (2007) also gives an example of the un-comfortableness that one can feel when trying to find the right words to say; In the movie “I am Sam”, the main character, Sam, is an adult with a developmental disability. An initially insensitive attorney says to Sam: “I need that list of names from you—people who can testify that you’re a good father despite your handicap.” “I didn’t mean your handicap, I meant your disability.” “The fact that you’re retarded.” “That’s not the right word.” “I don’t know what to call you!” To which he replies: “Sam, You can call me Sam” (Henry, 2007, pp. 3-4).

Henry (2007) states that; one basic question many people have is: “What is appropriate terminology”, for example, disability, impairment, or handicap? When you’re working with someone, you can ask what terminology he or she prefers. When you’re speaking in public or writing, you’ll need to do a little research to ensure that you use widely-accepted terminology and avoid potentially offensive terminology (Henry, 2007, p. 4). According to Henry (2007); the most important thing to know when interacting with people with disabilities is that they are people. And just like all people, they are very different and unique, including being different in how they are with disability issues (Henry, 2007, p. 4). Some people prefer different terms, some get very upset about terminology, and some don’t care. Some people get very upset about accessibility barriers and lash out at those responsible; some are very patient with accessibility barriers and are appreciative and supportive of people and organizations that are trying to fix barriers. Some people really appreciate the opportunity to talk about their disability and educate people about accessibility issues, and others don’t like to talk about it at all. After you know someone a little, you might ask, “I’m curious about your using a wheelchair. Are you comfortable talking about it, or would you prefer not to?” (Henry, 2007, p. 4).