January 25, 2018 Advocacy, Breaking Barriers in DV, Domestic Violence and Disabilities Tags: 0 Comments

Our blog contributor, Aida Colon, MSW, is a Social Worker at Barrier Free Living’s Freedom House Emergency Shelter. She graduated from Lehman College with her Master of Social Work. Prior to Freedom House she worked with cancer patients and families with children at risk of foster placement.

Kindness is a language which the Deaf can hear and the Blind can see. Mark Twain

For many culturally competent advocates and service providers being kind is not enough.  As strong advocates we need to truly understand the barriers Deaf Survivors encounter when seeking services of any kind, but particularly Domestic Violence services.

 Throughout my years as a Social Worker I have seen victims of domestic violence face many challenges when seeking assistance and finding safety. It can be particularly difficult for Domestic Violence Victims who are Deaf to get help when seeking services. These unique challenges must be understood in order for Advocates, Law enforcement, Social Workers, Community Programs and all Service Providers to provide support, and quality services to this population.

 Not all Deaf Victims, (whether born and raised in the United States, or any other country), are fluent in America Sign Language or in their own native sign language. It is essential to assess the language needs of a person to find the most effective methods of communication. The method of communication may vary and may include:

  • Deaf survivors who read lips and can express themselves orally.
  • Deaf survivors who cannot express themselves orally and can not read lips and need to communicate through drawing, writing, facial gestures or body language.
  • Deaf Survivors who can clearly write in the English language but do not have sign language abilities.
  • Deaf Survivors who communicate in Signed English, a different syntax than ASL

 While working with Deaf Survivors, there can be roadblocks to acquiring services based on a program’s “eligibility criteria and acceptance protocol”. Some programs believe that the only way to provide quality service to a specific population is to have staff speak their language, which is not necessarily the answer and can put up barriers for deaf survivors. Instead, it should be about finding unique ways to communicate and understand the Deaf culture. It requires thinking outside of the box.

Deaf survivors can be less likely to stay in a domestic violence shelter than a hearing survivor. The Deaf culture is a very unique and close community which for the most part remains together. In many cases Deaf survivors are less likely to stay in a domestic violence shelter because many can experience a profound sense of isolation.

In the article “Study Reveals Unique Issues Faced by Deaf Victims of Sexual Assault” (2007)  Lauren R. Taylor and Nicole Gaskin-Laniyan, Ph.D. contend that an impediment to Deaf victims seeking help is a lack of awareness about deafness and Deaf culture among hearing people.

 Many view deafness from a medical perspective, focusing on hearing deficits rather than viewing Deaf people as members of a linguistic and cultural community. In fact, many of the Deaf women interviewed in the article do not view themselves as disabled, but rather as having a culture and way of communicating not recognized by the dominant hearing culture.

We still have a lot of work ahead, but creating awareness is the main and most effective way to help others to continue improving their methods of serving in order to better assist the Deaf population.

 Things you can do to help improve communication among programs, communities and service providers


  • TTY (TeletypeWriter)
  • TDD – (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf)
  • Voice Carry Over
  • Captioned Telephones
  • Video Conferencing
  • IP Relay Quick Connect
  • My IP Relay
  • T-Mobile Sidekick
  • American Sign Language
  • Real-Time Captioning
  • Video relay
  • Internet Relay services
  • Interpretype
  • iCommunicator
    Speech to Text Transcription
  • www.i711.com (Fast and Free Relay Calling for Deaf)

About Freedom House

Freedom House provides unique services to the Deaf and hard of hearing survivors of domestic violence.  We coordinate American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation services during individual sessions and all groups including: domestic violence support groups, parenting support groups, community meetings, and housing/entitlements meetings.

Visit our website to learn more: www.bflnyc.org

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