The community has a crucial role to play, because most of us know at least one person with either an intellectual or developmental disability.
According to a 2013 study by the Spectrum Institute, more than 70 percent of people with disabilities report experiencing abuse during their lifetimes. Most often, it’s at the hands of someone they know and trust, such as family members, doctors and caregivers.
Members of the community can serve as allies for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families to combat this issue through integration and inclusion, said Claire Tierney, Healthy Relationships Program Manager at The Arc of King County.
She said a well-intentioned but misguided idea among many people without disabilities is that they should take on the role of “teacher” if they want to help people with disabilities establish healthy physical boundaries. Instead, Tierney said, society’s objective should shift away from this mindset and move towards inclusion. When a person is integrated into their community, they will be less isolated — and, in turn, this is a key way to decrease the risk of abuse.
The Arc’s Relationships and Sexuality Resource Line offers a space for people to confidentially ask questions and seek support when it comes to all issues pertaining to sexuality and relationships. The 10-week Healthy Relationships School Program teaches 18- to 21-year-olds information about interpersonal relationships, sexuality and establishing healthy boundaries.
“People with disabilities are often invisible to non-disabled people. They are often not included in or able to access public spaces, political conversations and media representations,” Tierney said. “Non-disabled people often only see the disability, so there is a lot of work to be done around perceiving people with disabilities as fully human, and then changing our spaces, our words, and our actions to be inclusive.”
Programs like those at The Arc of King County are invaluable, she said, but the community also has a crucial role to play — especially because most of us know at least one person with either an intellectual or developmental disability. We may think our responsibility starts and ends with reporting abuse or suspected abuse, but there’s more we can do to support individuals with disabilities and even prevent abuse from occurring in the first place.
Specifically, Tierney said, we can make a conscious effort to integrate and include these individuals into our communities and social circles.
The Arc of King County promotes and protects the human and civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, actively supporting their full inclusion so that they can live, learn, work, and play in the community – making the world a better place for us all.