Domestic Violence & Disabilities

Barrier Free Living is an expert working with survivors of domestic violence with disabilities.

The BFL team works with survivors of domestic violence with disabilities at our fully accessible Freedom House domestic violence shelter, our award winning Secret Garden domestic violence counseling program, and our latest BFL Apartments offering permanent homes with support services to survivors with disabilities and their families.

“Domestic violence is the number one issue of women with disabilities”

Paul Feuerstein, President/CEO

Our Latest DV Initiatives

The BFL team shares nearly 40 years of experience, knowledge and growth in the domestic violence and disabilities field.

Diana Turner: A Fierce Sense of Community 
Growing up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1970s, Diana Turner most remembers the fierce sense of community.
“I grew up across from Tompkins Square Park. Back then the neighborhood was called alphabet city,” says Diana, who joined the Barrier Free Living team this June (2019) as program director at our supportive housing program in the Bronx (BFL Apartments)*. “I saw the homeless problem. I also had a real sense of community and the importance of family.”
While she initially wanted to be a nurse, Diana first got a job with the NYC Department of Education.
“I worked with kids labeled emotionally disturbed. I was drawn into social services.”
In 2004, Diana joined Safe Horizon as a residential specialist and a half a year later became a supervisor. While she found the work meaningful, she eventually suffered burn out.
“It was becoming overwhelming because I didn’t understand the work I was doing. I wanted to understand it better.”
Diana sought more education, and pursued a master’s degree in social work from Hunter College, while working as a program supervisor at Palladia (a domestic violence shelter) in 2011. In 2014, she became program director at Community Access.
“The program was on 3rd Avenue. It was a supportive housing site, in some ways similar to Barrier Free Living Apartments,” she says. “When I learned of the opening at BFL Apartments, the idea of working with people with disabilities in the mission statement really attracted me.”
In her first month on the job, Diana says she immediately noticed how the residents at BFL Apartments create their own sense of community, something familiar to her.
“It’s similar to the way I grew up on the Lower East Side. People hung out and talked to each, and we respected one another.”
And what about the intensity of the work she does?
“I’ve learned a lot. Every day is a new day.”
*BFL Apartments provides permanent homes to survivors of domestic violence with disabilities. Barrier Free Living has been working with people with disabilities for nearly 40 years.

Substance Abuse & Domestic Violence

Contributor Sara Eldridge, LMSW, is the Assisstant Director of Social Services at Barrier Free Living’s Freedom House domestic violence shelter.  Sara is a licensed social worker who received a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in 2015.  Sara has been a social worker at Freedom House since 2015, where she provides individual and group counseling to adults, children and adolescents. Prior to Freedom House she worked with youth in alternatives to detention and incarceration programs, student veterans and crime victims.

Intense substance abuse, such as drinking and drug use, can be associated with erratic, risky behavior. It can also be linked to acts of violence, including domestic violence.

Substance abuse has also been linked to domestic violence in another way. Statistics show that victims of domestic violence, particularly those who have disabilities, are at an increased risk of abusing substances.

Women who have experienced intimate partner violence are two to six times more likely to abuse substances such as cocaine, alcohol and marijuana.

Among women who sought treatment for substance abuse in the past year, 31% to 67% reported experiencing domestic violence. Similarly, among women who sought domestic violence services 25% to 65% reported using substances. (Source: Complex Connections: Intimate Partner Violence and Women’s Substance Use and Recovery by Carole
Warshaw, M.D. at the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health.)

There are several reasons that survivors of domestic violence may misuse substances. At Barrier Free Living’s programs (BFL Apartments, Freedom House, Secret Garden) we recognize the need to address potential substance abuse issues as part of the healing process.

Substances may act as a coping mechanism to help survivors manage trauma reactions, particularly if they are already experiencing symptoms of mental illness. For example, a survivor who feels anxious or hypervigilant as a result of the abuse may habitually use marijuana to help them relax.

Substances can also help survivors numb their feelings, such as drinking to the point of blacking out. When a survivor feels like they can’t leave the abusive situation, abusing substances can provide temporary relief. If an abuser denies a disabled survivor access to medical care, substances such as alcohol or marijuana may be their only option to treat symptoms of physical or mental illness.

Abusers may also use substances as a way to control survivors. For example, abusers may coerce survivors to use substances before forcing them to engage in criminal behavior like dealing drugs or sex work. Abusers may also sabotage recovery efforts or threaten to report a survivor’s substance abuse to the police or child protective services.
The people we work with who have a substance disorder receive on-site case management and counseling support from behavioral health coordinators for their recovery at our BFL Apartments supportive housing program.

It should be noted that substance abuse can also increase a survivors’ vulnerability to domestic violence. They may have less awareness of their surroundings and be less able to defend themselves during an abusive incident, or conversely be more likely to respond aggressively when assaulted.

Substance abusers may get involved in domestic violence relationships with people who provide them with drugs or engage in drug use with them. Someone who can’t maintain a job or stable housing as a result of their substance use may enter a domestic violence relationship with someone who provides them with financial resources or a place to stay.

The Stats:
• People with physical and mental disabilities are two to four times more likely to experience substance abuse than the general population.
• Nearly 50% of people with traumatic brain injuries or spinal cord injuries have a substance abuse problem.
• People who are Deaf, have arthritis or multiple sclerosis have substance abuse rates at least twice that of the general population (source: Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation).
• In 2014, 39% of adults diagnosed with a substance use disorder were also diagnosed with a mental illness, representing 18.2% of adults diagnosed with a mental illness (source: SAMHSA). Among individuals who are diagnosed with a serious mental illness, like schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder, approximately 1 in 4 also have a substance use disorder (source: National Institute on Drug Abuse).

Calendar of Events, Outreach & More

August 8, 2019

IPV, Disability, and Trauma Training
FJC, White Plains, NY

Barrier Free Living’s Secret Garden team members will provide a training to domestic violence advocates at the White Plains Family Justice Center on the intersection of Domestic Violence, disability, and trauma.

Barrier Free Living offers a full roster of trainings related to domestic violence and disabilities. We provide expert speakers and instructors for seminars or trainings at your organization, both in-person or online. We cover Domestic Violence (DV)/Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and disabilities topics.

Learn more or request a training here.

Meditative Treatments For Freedom House Residents


Research indicates a strong connection between mental and physical health for trauma survivors.
This May, residents of Barrier Free Living’s Freedom House domestic violence shelter received free massages at the Reciprocity Foundation (view a virtual tour of Freedom House here).
The organization provides free and low-cost wellness services to vulnerable New Yorkers. Reciprocity recently opened a new Wellspace in downtown Manhattan.
Located in a nondescript office building, Reciprocity Wellspace features peaceful white walls and a stunning view of lower Manhattan. There is a meditation room, small library of spiritual and inspirational books, massage room, and open kitchen space.
Freedom House residents were offered water and lemonade as well as fresh fruit during their visit. The four residents who participated each received 30-minute chair massages.
The director of Reciprocity, Taz Tagore, explained that as shelter residents they were entitled to free weekly treatments, which could include meditation, yoga, massages or Reiki.
Freedom House has long taken a holistic approach to the healing journey for its residents. In addition to group and individual Domestic Violence counseling, residents can participate in biweekly yoga classes, movement workshops and a new art therapy group (read about the art therapy here)  In the past, transcendental meditation was offered on site.
Freedom House sources a variety of resources and studies in developing groups and healing work.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences survey demonstrates much higher rates of health problems for people who survived childhood trauma.
Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score explains in detail the nonverbal ways in which trauma is communicated, such as chronic pain or creative expression.
The Freedom House residents who chose to attend the Reciprocity spa day all experience chronic pain that negatively impacts their daily life and can make it difficult to engage in activities of daily living.
Participants reported that the massages reduced their pain and tension, increased their flexibility, and gave them more energy.
For survivors of domestic violence with disabilities, many of whom became disabled or saw their symptoms worsen as a result of the abuse, receiving massages and other wellness treatments is an especially useful tool to help with their physical and emotional healing.

Freedom House DV Shelter Virtual Tour 

Take a virtual tour of Barrier Free Living’s Freedom House domestic violence shelter for survivors with disabilities. Get an up close and inside look at what makes our shelter absolutely unique and vital.

Link to film here .

Breaking Barriers In DV Newsletter

Each month BFL team members share their expertise and experience around our work with survivors of domestic violence with disabilities. Email us to sign up: [email protected]

Domestic Violence Resources

Search our extensive resource of information on the issues surrounding of domestic violence and disabilities.

Examples: Shelter, Children, Advocacy, Fleeing

Stories of Survival

The great benefit of our work at Barrier Free Living is the opportunity to see the results of our programs and hear the stories of inspiration, persistance and survival that our programs have helped to create.

“My family feels safe. We are learning to be strong and to love ourselves. I am so glad we are here” More about  Olga’s Journey of Hope

“I wanted to volunteer here because I wanted to be part of the great mission that Freedom House has for women and children.” More about  Bethelihem’s Journey of Hope


The BFL team shares its expertise at conferences and attends events locally and nationwide throughout the year.

Check back for future outreach events.