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Children and Youth with Disabilities

Programs serving children and youth with disabilities should strive for accessibility, making sure that their environment is inclusive of people who have a range of physical, developmental, cognitive, and psychological disabilities.

According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, an estimated 13.5 million children, or approximately 20%, of U.S. children under the age of 18, have a disability. Programs serving children and youth with disabilities should strive for accessibility, making sure that their environment is inclusive of people who have a range of physical, developmental, cognitive, and psychological disabilities.

We use the term ‘disability’ here as an umbrella term to describe people who are neurodivergent, deaf and hard of hearing, blind and partially sighted, and those who have any other physical, cognitive, developmental, or psychological disabilities. However, it is important to know that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to disability. Programs should support children, young people, and their families in defining their own identities, experiences and goals as a guiding principle

The stress of living in a domestic violence situation is challenging for any young person, but children and youth with disabilities may experience added stress and anxiety when they enter shelters and have to leave their homes, routines, and even change schools.

Providing equal access to safety and other healing services for disabled children, youth and parents requires meaningful collaboration among local organizations that serve people with disabilities and those who serve survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Knowing your state and local laws is essential to meeting the equal access requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but programs can consider a wide range of policy and practice that can enhance their services for families.

As part of program readiness, your organization can measure your capacity to serve survivors with disabilities and partner with organizations in your community that serve disabled children, youth and adults. You can also connect with national resources like the National Deaf Domestic Violence Hotline and End Abuse of People with Disabilities.

End Abuse of People with Disabilities offers an online assessment tool for domestic and sexual violence organizations that can be accessed here.

Key considerations for serving children and young people with disabilities include:

Are your program services, staff, and physical environment welcoming to children and youth with disabilities?

  • Do you ask about accessibility needs for children and teens at intake?

  • Does your program allow service and emotional support animals?

  • Do you offer text, online chat and TTY options for survivors? Do you offer ASL interpretation?

  • Do you have policies and procedures that ensure access to facilities, printed materials, computers, and electronic resources for people with disabilities?

  • Do you ensure your in-person and virtual events are accessible for people with disabilities?

  • Are there designated safe sensory-friendly spaces available for parents and children who may experience sensory overload (e.g. away from crowds, noise, lights)? Do you offer sensory aids and toys?

  • Does your program support children and families in advocating with the school system to access or continue special education services, or assist with applying to SSI or EPSDT benefits?

Is your service model in line with the 10 Principles of Disability Justice?

  • Are disabled children, youth and adults included in the planning, implementation and evaluation of your organization’s programming and policies?

  • Is your staff trained to understand the intersection of domestic violence and disability and understand disability justice as a core issue of equity?

Disability Rights Organizations

Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services supports survivors of domestic and sexual violence who are Deaf, DeafBlind or hard of hearing. In partnership with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, ADWAS runs the National Deaf Domestic Violence Hotline.

The Arc promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) seeks to advance the principles of the disability rights movement with regard to autism. They work to empower autistic people, and ensure that their voices are heard. ASAN supports the development of autistic cultural activities, and also engages in public policy development and systems change work through a number of educational, cultural, and advocacy related projects.

Center for Inclusive Child Care aims to be a centralized, comprehensive and responsive resource network for supporting quality care for children. They offer resources for parents, caregivers, and community members to support children and youth.

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) is a national, non-profit, organization providing education, advocacy and support for individuals with ADHD. In addition, CHADD also publishes a variety of printed materials to keep members and professionals current on research advances, medications and treatments affecting individuals with ADHD.

The Dayle McIntosh Center for the Disabled is a national nonprofit organization that provides services to people with disabilities and facilitates equal access and inclusion within the community.

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) is a leading national civil rights law and policy center directed by individuals with disabilities or parents who have children with disabilities.

Disability Rights International is dedicated to promoting human rights and full participation in society of people with disabilities worldwide. Disability Rights International trains and supports advocates seeking legal and service system reform and assists governments in developing laws and policies to promote community integration and human rights enforcement for people with mental disabilities.

Easterseals Project Action Consulting offers affordable, flexible professional training and consultation on ADA-accessible transportation issues.

End Abuse of People with Disabilities provides training and technical assistance about serving survivors with disabilities and Deaf survivors, including online courses and assessments.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities advocates for strong federal policies, convenes experts to discuss pressing issues facing the field, and publishes research and resources to improve practices in schools for children with learning disabilities.

The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) is a source of information about employment and youth with disabilities. NCWD/Youth assists State and local workforce development systems to better serve youth with disabilities.

The National Disability Rights Network is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Through training and technical assistance, legal support, and legislative advocacy, NDRN works to create a society in which people with disabilities are afforded equality of opportunity and are able to fully participate by exercising choice and self-determination. List of NDRN Member organizations in every state and U.S. Territory.

The National Research Center for Parents With Disabilities offers information sheets, research briefs, and other resources for parents with disabilities, legal professionals, social workers, and researchers.

Peace Over Violence is a multicultural, community based organization dedicated to building healthy relationships, families, and communities free from sexual, domestic, and interpersonal violence. They have a program specifically for survivors of sexual and domestic violence who are deaf, hard of hearing, have a disability, and/or are elder individuals.

TASH is an international leader in disability advocacy. They advocate for human rights and inclusion for people with significant disabilities and support needs – those most vulnerable to segregation, abuse, neglect and institutionalization. TASH works to advance inclusive communities through advocacy, research, professional development, policy, and information and resources for parents, families and self-advocates.