Trauma Disables and Disability Traumatizes: Part Two Of A Three Part Article
Barrier Free Living is dedicated to helping people with disabilities thrive in their communities, at our programs and shelters in the New York area.
We address the issues facing survivors of domestic violence with disabilities across our programs (Secret Garden, Freedom House and Barrier Free Living Apartments) through safe shelter and housing, trauma-informed counseling, and advocacy. At our Transitional Housing program, we provide shelter to adults with disabilities.
In this three part article, we will explore: why people with disabilities are at a higher risk of abuse; the likelihood of negative trauma reactions to the abuse; and how trauma and abuse can actually cause or further contribute to a disability.
Trauma reactions in survivors with disabilities
Many of the same risk factors that increase people with disabilities’ likelihood of abuse also increase the likelihood that they will experience negative trauma reactions, such as Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. These risk factors include exposure to previous traumatic experiences, abuse by a caregiver or loved one, lack of social support, lower cognitive ability, and inability to escape.
People who have been abused before often have fewer coping strategies and have difficulty identifying safe situations and people, leading to further victimization.
Abuse by caregivers or loved ones, such as those who are helping a person with a disability perform daily tasks, can be very traumatizing because it violates basic bonds of trust. People with a disability often lack access to social support because of mobility, communication or financial barriers, meaning they have fewer people to help them cope with a trauma. People who face these barriers are often unable to escape the situation, leading to feelings of guilty, shame, and helplessness.
Barrier Free Living programs take a trauma-informed approach in working with survivors, which centers their experiences and sensitively addresses their history of isolation and lack of trust.
Freedom House, Secret Garden and Barrier Free Living Apartments assign each resident, consumer or tenant to their own social worker, who provides individual and group counseling. Barrier Free Living also provides regular trauma training to staff, including frontline workers.
At Freedom House, one resident with multiple sclerosis fled an abusive marriage. Initially very fearful and reluctant to engage with the services, she eventually began attending support groups and meeting with her social worker. The nurse and social worker worked with her to ensure she would continue receiving home attendant services. She attended financial counseling workshops offered by the Shine Foundation and worked on gaining new life skills with the Occupational Therapy department. Over the course of several months, she became an active, friendly member of the Freedom House community who was both financially and physically independent.
Up Next: In part three of this article, launching this Wednesday, we look at how trauma and abuse can actually cause disability.
**The videos were created by the New York County Collaborative, a partnership between BFL, Office of the New York County District Attorney, Crime Victims Treatment Center, Harlem Independent Living Center and CONNECT, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.
Contributor Sara Eldridge, LMSW, Assistant Director of Social Services at Barrier Free Living’s Freedom House domestic violence shelter offers her insights on Freedom House’s work with male domestic violence survivors. 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.
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