Going to College with a Disability

 

by Eva Sweeney, Hannah Langlie, Julie McGinnity and GimpGirl Community

Transitioning from adolescence to college (or university) life is scary at times for most students. However, being a college student with a disability definitely comes with its own unique challenges. This article explores many of the common pitfalls experienced by students, and how individuals successfully addressed these barriers.

Although high schools in some countries (such as the United States) are required to assist young adults with disabilities transitioning to a successful adulthood, many of these programs aren’t designed for a transition to college. These programs are often built around the false assumptions that disabled students are not going to attend college, or have aspirations beyond menial jobs and living at home (or in a group home). These programs are also staffed by adult, able-bodied professionals who do not have first-hand experience with living as a disabled person, and role models who have experience are rarely introduced.

As a high school student, these well-meaning programs can be a tremendously disempowering experience. Individual needs can get lost in a sea of bureaucracy and paperwork, and are often not addressed in meaningful ways. The system is not designed to give students all the tools needed to take charge of their lives and truly live independently.

Not surprisingly, in the United States only 53% of students with disabilities have completed a degree or vocational program, as opposed to 64% of their nondisabled peers (Cole, pg. 2). Students with disabilities don’t finish for many reasons, including lack of educational programs, not having access to funding, problems with coordinating support services like personal care attendants (PCAs) and medical care, unexpected medical complications, geographical access barriers like snow or long commutes, and physical access barriers like inaccessible classrooms or student housing.

We have put together a list of helpful tips for navigating the confusing landscape of college life. These tips are taken from our own experiences, as women with various disabilities, and should in no way be taken to represent all access needs. Eva attended a small, liberal arts college in Los Angeles. She uses a wheelchair to get around and speaks with a letter board since she is non-verbal. Hannah is currently a third-year college student in Seattle studying journalism. She uses a power chair most of the time and lives on campus. Julie is a master’s degree student studying music, and utilizes Braille and readers.

Balancing Academics and Practical Needs

Managing practical needs (such as personal care or navigating between classes) is critical to succeeding in college, so it is important to know what supports and accommodations are available. It is important to remember that every situation is a little different, depending on your personal needs and the college you choose. The quotes below relate each of our personal experiences.

Coordinating Disability Services

The vast majority of post-secondary schools (in the United States and other countries) have a disability services office that is suppose to coordinate all of the support services and accommodations needed by students to be successful. However, the responsiveness of the staff and quality of the services provided in each disability services office varies widely. We had very different experiences:

“My college’s disability services person was god awful. All my professors trusted me, so when I needed more time for tests, I just took the test in the cafeteria. I also couldn’t stay in the same room since my aide voiced what I’d be spelling out on my letter board and therefore, giving everyone my answers. My professors knew I wouldn’t cheat or copy the test for others. When I was done, I would just drop it off in their office. If I had used disability services, it would have been tons of unnecessary paperwork and time for each test. When I started each semester, I would email my professors and introduce myself. I would briefly explain cerebral palsy and that I would have an aide accompany me to class. I would also troubleshoot any potential issues. For example, my Human Anatomy class did a lot of work handling model bones. I can’t use my hands so instead, my professor would explain where certain bones are in my body. When I took painting, my professor was worried at first about how I would participate. But with an explanation and one or two classes, she quickly got it and I became one of her favorite students.” — Eva

“I choose to meet with each of my professors that I don’t already know before the quarter starts to go over my accommodations. Although I do use disability services, I don’t always use the accommodations for every class, I am able to customize them for what classes I need. Usually, a face-to-face meeting will help offset any anxiety that a professor might have. Because I use dictation software to write most of my papers and tests, I have a similar situation that I can’t be in the class with all of the other students, so sometimes I have to work this out, depending on what the test entails.” — Hannah

“I have always used disability services. Since I don’t have the time or energy to scan my books into accessible formats, I find them useful for this purpose. I have also worked with them to get Braille, which is very important to me. Since the college is obligated to pay for Braille, I prefer to go through them rather than trying to pay for it on my own. I try not to take tests through Disability Services though. It is much easier to arrange to take a test with a reader in a professor’s office or just take the test with the rest of the class.” — Julie

Continue Reading Going to College with a Disability

How GimpGirl Works

How do we function as an organization? People often ask about our somewhat unique way of getting things done. GimpGirl Community has been around for almost 16 years now, but because we often operate behind closed doors most people don’t understand how this community works from an “administrative” level.

We are a relatively well-known group in certain circles, and the prevailing stereotype of relatively well-known groups such as ours is that of a well-funded, corporate nonprofit with a full staff who often presumes to know more about the people they serve than the people themselves. I promise you we are none of those things.

Financial Survival

GimpGirl has never been — and never will be — a well-funded corporate nonprofit. We have never been the recipient of any grant, and we do not have a regular source of funding aside from occasional member donations that cover the cost of incidentals like travel and computer equipment. We have always relied on “in-kind” donations of services from supporters (mostly friends of those within our “staff” circle) and individual members. They donate technical services such as server maintenance and computer repair, and various professional services such as editing articles and consulting on the best way to create healthy environments. We also partner with other organizations on services like web servers in order to save money.

Aside from our beginnings as part of a very small nonprofit (which is now defunct), and a brief partnership with another very small nonprofit, we have never been independently registered as a nonprofit. One of the main benefits of being a registered nonprofit is the ability to apply for grants and various other funding. For some organizations, a reliable money stream is essential to carrying out services. However, going down that path also means that a large percentage of human resources must be redirected to continually seeking new and better funding sources.

The U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporate structure comes with legal requirements, as well as additional provisions required by funding sources – stipulations we are not willing to accept. As women with disabilities, our lives are often subject to the whims of medical and bureaucratic institutions. Our members sometimes deal with homelessness, neglect, abandonment in life-threatening situations, and physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The organizations and bureaucracies that are in place to deal with these situations are often not set up to handle disability needs. As a collective, we have the flexibility to help our members deal with these situations in ways that we would not be able to if we incorporated as a nonprofit.

Human Resources

Even though GimpGirl technically has an internal hierarchy, we often function more like a democratic collective. The hierarchy was established to create a structure to deal with potential conflicts, and to centralize individuals who have clearance to speak for our community and coordinate volunteer efforts. Because we are a community by and for women with disabilities, it is highly beneficial to have a flexible structure that allows individuals to contribute in a way that works for them. Our volunteers not only deal with the barriers that the bureaucracy around disability causes, but they also deal with the complications that many adults deal with – jobs, children, family, relationships.

There are times when we refer to the contributors as “staff,” but we have never paid anyone any amount of money to work for this community. All “staff” hours are donated by individuals, including those who officially have titles such as myself. Our core volunteers also often collaborate with other organizations on projects related to women with disabilities and technology, but they generally do not receive monetary compensation for their efforts even when the project is funded. Volunteers are invited to conferences around the world to represent our community and to talk about the issues we confront, and when we are lucky the organizers pay for travel and accommodations. We are all volunteers working towards a common goal – not because we are paid, but because we are passionate.

Member Participation

The real magic in what we do happens when we bring members together. The women with disabilities that facilitate and participate in this community work together to create the space that makes everything that we do possible. Many members have never had the opportunity to talk to other women with disabilities because of barriers or a lack of people in the local community. A kind of natural co-mentorship forms when you bring people together who understand the lived experience of each other. Our members come from all over the world, and represent a wide variety of different backgrounds and levels of experience. They also have a wide range of disabilities.

Young students come to us struggling with the complications that come with being successful in college to speak to older professionals who have been where they are. Individuals in abusive situations at home come to us to speak with women who have made the transition to their own environment. Women who are pregnant come to speak with other mothers who understand how society treats mothers with disabilities. People simply wondering how to get from here to there to accomplish something they want to accomplish come to ask about accessible transportation. We all have some story or learned lesson that we can share that is meaningful to others.

Involving a wide range of women with disabilities also helps ensure that our community stays accessible to a wide range of people. Our contributors strive to create online spaces that are inclusive to all of our members, because our members make us who we are. Additionally, contributors are all people with disabilities who have their own needs. Instead of thinking about accessibility as a vague idea or a checklist, we think about accessibility as a constantly evolving collective responsibility to work together to make sure everyone can participate. We are successful because we work together with inclusivity in mind from the beginning.

Other Resources

If you have access to an academic library and would like more information about how this community functions, please check out our article in New Media and Society entitled GimpGirl grows up: Women with disabilities rethinking, redefining, and reclaiming community. Everyone can access additional information about this community on this website under the About Us tab, as well as in the numerous articles found here.

Community Liaison Katherine Mancuso and I will also be discussing how our community works today – January 27, 2014 at 6pm Pacific — at the online event Leading Accessible Online Communities. It is open to everyone!

 

– Jennifer Cole, Director, GimpGirl Community

 

Happy Holidays!

 

There have been a lot of big changes behind the scenes at GimpGirl in 2013, but the people who make up our amazing community – you – are still as wonderful as ever. We make connections, we educate, we share stories and successes and failures, and we grow what we are capable of together. As women with disabilities, all the things that we do together to create community benefits us all, and we are all endlessly grateful for it.

A screenshot of GimpGirl Community's new Second Life parcel(GimpGirl Community’s new Second Life space. (2013). Jennifer Cole.)

We were unable to do a holiday party this year due to technical issues, which we hope to have sorted out by our 16th anniversary in February. Stay tuned!

2013 In Review

We have posted many amazing articles this year, including Domestic Violence Support for Women with Disabilities, Hiring Aides, and When to Say Goodbye to an Aide.

We have also updated our blog roll of amazing blogs by women with disabilities, which you should definitely check out if you haven’t already!

One of our volunteers, Kaitlin Thompson, represented us at the Dare to Dream Conference (see video from her presentation).

We started working collaboratively with Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Research on Women with Disabilities, and resumed our weekly meetings after a brief hiatus over the summer.

… And there is much more to come in 2014!

 

Have a great holiday, and remember we are still active on Facebook and Twitter even though we are taking a break from weekly meetings until after the new year!

Do you have any favorite stories to share from 2013? Feel free to comment below!

When to Say Goodbye to an Aide

 

In a previous article, we talked about how to find and hire an aide. Now, we’re going to discuss when and how to end that relationship when it has reached a natural conclusion. Knowing when to end a good working relationship can be tricky.

Being an aide should be really fun — and professional — for both you and your employee. However, there is an arc that most working relationships follow. If you hire people who are right out of college, they will inevitably want to leave to pursue their careers. Even aides who have been in the industry may need to move on for various reasons.

If they are having a good time at work and have a steady job, an aide may not know how to voice their desires to leave. Here are some changes to watch for that may indicate an aide needs to move on:

Lack of Energy. Everyone has days where they feel tired, but if your aide starts coming to work on a regular basis without enough energy or zest for the job, it could be a sign that its time to move on. This is especially true if he or she had a lot of energy and then suddenly doesn’t.
Moodiness. If your aide suddenly gets annoyed at little things, it’s a sign that they are not happy at the job.
Calling Out Sick More. Again, everyone gets sick once in awhile. If your helper starts calling in a lot (especially with no particular health reason), that is not a good sign.

How do you address this? It’s not fair (especially if you and your aide have had a good working relationship) to fire her or him without discussing your concerns. Your employee might have a legitimate reason for his or her change in attitude that is unrelated to your working relationship.

Here’s an example of a conversation you might have with your aide to voice your concerns:

You: Hey, so I want to talk about our working relationship. I have noticed you might not be as into the job.
Aide: What do you mean?
You: I have noticed your energy at work has not been as much as it previously was. I don’t know if you are having extra stress outside of work or something, but I just wanted to bring it to your attention.
Aide: Yeah, I’m a little more stressed. I’ll make sure it doesn’t bleed into my work now. Thanks for bringing it up.

It’s up to you if you want to give them another chance. If you enjoy the working relationship, its worth giving him or her a week or two to see if he or she improves, especially after you voice your concern. If he or she doesn’t improve (or only improves for a few days), its time to part ways.

Here are a few tips for how to bring up that you need to part ways:

Be Honest! Explain what you are seeing and how you think it shows that he or she needs to move on.
Use “I” Statements. This sounds cliché, but people will listen to your concerns better if you don’t say “you are.” Observations are better phrased starting with “I feel” sentiments such as: “I feel like our working relationship has changed.” This helps avoid hurt feelings and keep the conversation professional.
Use Email (if possible). That way, you can get everything out without being interrupted. Once your aide reads and digests the email, you two can have a discussion.
Remember, It’s Ultimately Your Decision. If you still feel like its time for her or him to move on, say it! You are the boss, and if you feel like the job is not being done correctly, you should fix it.
Share Positive Feedback. Be sure to praise her or him for the history of good work and assure him or her that it’s not personal. People might feel you just don’t enjoy spending time with them anymore and you should emphasize that is not the case.

Here’s an example of a conversation you might have when you have to let him or her go:

You: So I know I gave you two more weeks to improve your work performance, but I feel its time to part ways. I feel that this job is not the right fit for you anymore. I really enjoyed working with you and I think you are an awesome person. I will of course give you a glowing recommendation for your future employers. This is not personal and I really thank you for all the work you have done.
Aide: I’m sorry to hear that, but I understand. Do you want me to help you transition to a new aide?
You: That would be awesome, thanks!

(Note: Not all conversations will go as smoothly, so be aware of that)

If you do let them go, you should be prepared if he or she doesn’t want to help you transition to a new aide. Firing can be hard to take, especially when you have to work so closely with your boss, so have a back-up plan for help so you don’t get stranded. Hopefully, your aide will understand and help you transition to a new one.

Also, be sure to mention that you would provide references for them and how awesome they have been. These kinds of conversation are inherently awkward and uncomfortable, but it gets easier the more you do it.

Do you have any other suggestions on when and how to say goodbye to an aide? Feel free to comment below!

We are back!

 

Okay, we never really went anywhere. Our Facebook group continues to be incredibly active, and you can always find us on Twitter. However, we did take a much lengthier than expected break from our weekly support group meetings over the summer as we transitioned from our previous site on Second Life.

CROWD LogoThanks to the Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD), we now have a brand-new space to hold meetings on Second Life. CROWD is run by women with disabilities, and one of their many projects utilizes the Second Life platform to develop and carry out health promotion interventions for women with disabilities. It is a match made in heaven!

We have had many requests over our break for our meetings to continue, and we are happy to say that the wait is over! On November 3, 2013, at 1 PM Pacific, we will be holding our first support group meeting at our new location on Second Life. This meeting is for women with disabilities only. We encourage everyone to show up early to make sure that you can access the new location.

As always, if you don’t choose to (or can’t) use Second Life for whatever reason, you can always join us on our chat room. It is an IRC channel that can be accessed from our website, or by using mIRC or many other free IRC clients. The details can be found on the Chat Room page if you prefer to connect using another client.

We will be having events for the general public in the future, so stay tuned. We encourage everyone to subscribe to our Google calendar, or join one of our other communities to get notices about future events.

Have questions about how to connect? Comment below, or connect with us on any of our communities!

Hiring Aides

by Eva Sweeney and GimpGirl Community

Regardless of how many hours you need, finding an aide can be daunting. Aides, personal care assistants, carers and helpers are all titles for people you hire to help you. Some of us just need help getting up in the morning and getting in bed at night. Some of us need twenty-four hour assistance.

In a previous article, we discussed balancing relationships and aides. You need to find someone who can do all the tasks you need, but also respect you. You need to be comfortable with this person in your home. However, getting started on the hiring process can be overwhelming to beginners.

Here’s a list of tips to help you find a good aide:

  • If you’re putting an ad on Craigslist, in your local paper or with local college job boards, consider not only writing what the job entails, but also include a little bit about yourself. This lets people know a little bit about who you are, and if your personality will match. Have people email you rather than call– what they write will tell you a lot. If they just write “I need a job” then you know they’re not particularly interested in working for you. Likewise, if they tell you their whole life story, you should probably avoid interviewing them.

  • Sometimes less experience is better! If you feel confident training someone on how to do tasks, you might consider hiring someone with zero experience. People who have done this work before often have preconceived notions about how to do certain tasks or how to act. You don’t have to “retrain” people who haven’t done the job before.

  • When people email you and sound like a possible candidate, you might want to send them a list of pre-interview questions to answer. Such questions can be, “What about this job appeals to you?” and “Do you have any back problems?” Having this pre-interview definitely weeds out people who won’t be a good fit– and saves you time and energy.

  • Interview, interview, interview! (And interview in-person!) You might consider having another person with you while you interview. This helps you get a second opinion on the interviewee. Even if you work through an agency, it is your right to interview a person before saying yes to them.  You might have to explain to your agency why you would like to interview people before you say yes.  But if you do it in a calm, rational manner agencies are likely to understand.

  • Have a list of questions ready. Questions can range from “Can you lift and do personal care?” to “What are your hobbies?” Preparing questions beforehand makes the interview go smoothly. Asking a potential employee about hobbies might seem weird, but it’s a good way to see what their personality is like and if  they’re a good fit for you.

  • Ask what questions the person may have. If they ask about pay and nothing else, it’s probably not a good sign. If they ask about you or the duties of the job, it shows they’re thinking seriously about the job.

  • Watch them! If they don’t look directly at you or they seem uncomfortable, it’s probably not a good fit. But remember interviews are nerve-wracking, so the person might be a little nervous.  Try to casually talk with the person to see if they open up and relax a little.

  • Outline in detail the duties of the job. This ensures you and the person that you are interviewing that you are both on the same page about what the job entails. Ask if they’re uncomfortable with any aspect of the job.  If so, try to alleviate their concerns.

  • Suggest the person take a day to see if they really want this job. Most people are excited in the interview, but they don’t take the time to consider if they are really fit for the job. This cuts down on people starting work and then later realizing they are not up for it and then leaving.

  • Consider a time commitment. It is reasonable to ask people to stay for 3, 6, or 12 months. This cuts down on the turnaround that is common in these jobs.

  • Possibly do a second interview where you and the person just chat and get to know each other. This shows if you two get along or if they annoy you. If the latter happens it’s probably not wise to hire them.

  • Consider making the first month a trial period for both of you. That way if you don’t find your personalities meshing well, or your new hire doesn’t feel comfortable with any of the tasks, you both can say, “It’s not working out” without feeling like you’re breaking the time commitment.

  • Think about writing a training manual for your new hires. Describe in detail how you would like each task to be performed. When you hire someone, you can email them the manual but remember to say that they don’t have to memorize it.

  • If possible, have one of your past aides help you train your new one. Explaining things in words is great, but having someone show them what to do makes everything go more smoothly. Also for things like lifting, you probably have a limited understanding since you haven’t lifted yourself.

Here is an example of a job posting for hiring an aide:


Title: Live-in Secondary Caregiver (Independent Provider)

Start Date: June 15, 2012

Length of Job: Summer/2.5 Months (approximately)

Wage/Compensation: $XXXX/month (approximately, can vary) + free rent (furnished room) [Note: This could include anything given in exchange for aide services.]

Job Contact: First Name, Email Address

Requirements:

  • I am a relatively quiet, involved, intellectual woman with a physical disability who is highly involved in various community projects. I am also a cultural anthropology student. I will treat you as a capable, equal human being and I expect the same treatment in return. As we will be both working and living together for a period of time, we will need to have compatible personalities. I encourage you to share your unique personality with me in every contact, as it is more important to me than anything else in the hiring process for this particular position.

  • You must be registered as an independent provider through the State of XXXX prior to the start date, and follow-up with required state training sessions in order to get paid. This process can be started after the interview process and should not take long. The process requires a background check, legal identification and authorization to work in the United States. [Note: Licensing requirements differ in different states and countries. If you rely on government funding, be sure to educate yourself on what local process an aide may need to go through in order to get paid.]

  • No other training or experience is required other than the ability (physical and otherwise) and willingness to learn basic caregiving duties.

  • Any gender is welcome to apply.

  • References are required and will be checked.

  • Valid drivers license is preferable, though not explicitly required.

Job Duties:

  • You will be responsible for relatively light caregiving duties on nights and weekends for the duration of the job. Duties generally include: occasional cooking, feeding, and toileting; bedtime routine; overnight monitoring in case of emergency.

  • Even though I am an extremely busy woman, I enjoy getting out of the house every now and then to have fun on the weekends. On these occasions, you would be responsible for getting me dressed and accompanying me on the trip. If you have a valid drivers license, you would be driving my wheelchair accessible minivan.

  • You will also be responsible for emergency backup duties if the regular daytime caregiver is unable to carry out their duties. The regular daytime caregiver is through an agency, so backup duties should be relatively rare as the agency is responsible for finding coverage for those hours.

Note:

Hours and responsibilities are somewhat negotiable, depending on our compatibility and your availability. Even though you would be hired as a live-in caregiver, there are generally long periods of time (up to 4 hours or more at a time during the day) when I will not actively need your help. This would be the perfect situation for someone who needs to take summer classes, or has an internship or day job during the week. Hours can be slightly adjusted to accommodate such schedules, and you will have plenty of time to study or meet friends for a meal in between duties. Any adjustments may affect your compensation.


Even if you have lots of experience, hiring an aide is always a gamble. Some working relationships work out wonderfully, and others don’t. Learning to manage aides is a process, and we all have negative experiences along the way. Hopefully these tips will guide you through getting started on the process.

Lets hear from you! Do you have any have any great tips on how to hire an aide or an experience you’d like to share?

GimpGirl Moves to a New Sim

GimpGirl Community’s current Second Life sim will be closing as of May 11, 2013. In June, we will have a new Second Life space set up and will notify everyone when it opens! Until then, we will be taking a break after May 11 from regular scheduled meetings, so our last meeting for a few weeks will be the Hang Out Hour on May 8. We will announce the next meeting as we get closer to opening our new space on Second Life. In the meantime, you can get involved on Facebook and Twitter, or reach us on our website contact form.

A reminder to all current vendors and tenants: Our current Second Life sim will be completely shutting down as of May 11. Don’t wait until the last minute to save all of your objects! If you have anything on our parcel that is irreplaceable, please take it into your inventory as soon as possible. All vendor spaces and apartments will completely disappear on or around May 11. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns that we can assist you with.

Domestic Violence Support for Women with Disabilities

Women with disabilities account for over 20% of the general population (Office on Disability Prevalence…, n.d.), and experience rates of abuse 1.5 to 10 times higher than women without disabilities (Sobsey, 1988). However, shelters are largely inadequate to support the needs of women with disabilities who want to escape violence. According to a study by Nosek, Howland and Young, 83% of shelters offered or made referrals to temporary wheelchair accessible housing, 47% provided interpreter services to deaf or hard of hearing individuals, and only 6% offered assistance with caregiver services (1997). Additionally, even if services are available, staff only receives disability awareness training in 36% of shelters (Nosek, Howland & Young, 1997). When a woman contacts a domestic violence service, she often ends up having to educate the staff about disability. She may even end up emotionally supporting the staff through the awkward exchange of dubious information. The dearth of services – combined with a profound lack of access to information — often leaves women with disabilities feeling like there is no escape.

The absence of support for such accommodations for women with disabilities is largely because the general population is unaware of the rates of abuse this demographic experiences. The dearth of information is simply an outcome of this severe lack of awareness. People have no idea that rates of violence can be up to 62% over a women’s lifetime, and much higher for women with severe learning disorders (Nosek, Howland & Young, 1997). Women with disabilities — from every demographic — experience higher rates of abuse than women without disabilities.

When a woman with a disability experiences domestic violence, the perpetrator is usually an intimate partner, family or caregiver (Nosek, Howland & Young, 1997). Economic constraints or lack of independent ability to leave a violent situation puts women with disabilities at a severe disadvantage. They can be completely at the mercy of those around them, and without a safety net of other family assistance or community services, women with disabilities have no way of escape. Unfortunately, shelter services are notoriously incapable of handling accommodations — such as wheelchair access, sign language interpreters, caregivers and other disability specific needs — required by domestic violence survivors with disabilities.

Violence is often a crime that takes the path of least resistance. Women with disabilities are easier to control economically, physically and emotionally due to a myriad of reasons, such as stereotypes, their potentially lowered ability to make money (due to practical or systemic constraints), and dependence on inherently problematic institutions and social services. They are often raised with heightened forms of infantilization and pedestalling. “Good” girls and women with disabilities are compliant, grateful, and constantly happy, while often simultaneously being treated like a burden to those around them. If disabled from birth, that may be all a woman with a disability will expect of herself. They are “easy” targets for perpetrators of violence, especially because of their limited ability to escape the situation.

In order for the deeper issue of awareness of violence against women with disabilities to change, people would have to face the facts behind violence against women in general, as well as deeply ingrained stereotypes about people with disabilities. “Good” people would never dream of perpetrating violence or rape against women with disabilities, predominately because they do not view women with disabilities as sexual or threatening. They do not understand that abuse and rape are not about who deserves it, mainstream stereotypes of sexual attractiveness, or the ability of the person being abused to defend themselves. It is about control, and vulnerability only makes control easier.

A woman who needs assistance may have no idea where to find support when she experiences domestic violence. It is the responsibility of shelter agencies to provide this basic information to women with disabilities, even if there are no services available. Women with disabilities are often put in the position of having to fight through a maze of bureaucracy to find out that there are no supports available – effectively revictimizing a woman already in crisis. Even knowing what is not available allows an individual to allocate precious energy to workable alternatives. This information is vital to someone seeking assistance, and the lack of information only adds to the profound silencing women with disabilities in this situation experience.

Women with disabilities face rates of abuse that are 1.5 to 10 times greater than women without disabilities in any demographic (Sobsey, 1988). Yet, they often do not receive the same supports that women without disabilities in domestic violence crisis receive. They face the same violence in profound isolation and silence, with less ability to protect themselves. When they do reach out to find a safer situation, women with disabilities are met with confusion and a severe lack of information on what little services are actually available. This should not be acceptable in the domestic violence support community – a community that was founded on feminist principles to assist women seeking safety and alleviate the silencing that often accompanies abuse.

s.e. smith also wrote about this issue on the This Ain’t Livin’ blog earlier this month: Access Denied: Crisis Centres and Disabled People. Check it out!

Bibliography

Nosek, M.A., Howland, C.A., Young, M.E. (1997). Abuse of Women with Disabilities: Policy Implications. Journal of Disabilities Policy Studies.

Office on Disability Prevalence and Impact Fact Sheet. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Retrieved February 29, 2012, from http://www.hhs.gov/od/about/fact_sheets/prevalenceandimpact.html

US Department of Justice. (2002). Americans with Disabilities Act Questions and Answers. Retrieved March 9, 2013, from http://www.ada.gov/q%26aeng02.htm#Public

Sobsey, D. (1988). Sexual Offenses and Disabled Victims: Research and Practical Implications. Vis-A-Vis.

GimpGirl Community’s 15th Anniversary Celebration

In February we celebrate GimpGirl Community’s 15th anniversary. We’ve come a long way since it was founded in 1998, however our mission remains the same — to support the lives of women with disabilities. We could not do this without the support of our members.

To mark this celebration we would like to ask you to submit your thoughts to us on what GimpGirl has meant to you. It could be a memory, a poem, a piece of creative writing or art work. We will showcase them on our website, Flickr, Second Life, Facebook and Twitter. We are also planning a celebration (details to come) where we will showcase some pieces and show art work in our Second Life gallery and on Flickr. We ask that these be submitted by 28th of February.

You can email your entry to us using the contact form on our website or add pictures to our Flickr group. You can also comment on this post with your memories. What is your first memory of GimpGirl? What is your favorite memory since being part of the community? We look forward to reading them!

Accessible Gynecologists

 

A common barrier faced by many women with disabilities is finding a gynecologist with an accessible office and the knowledge and flexibility to work with complications associated with various disabilities. Some time ago GimpGirl members got together to start a list of gynecologists that they had personal experience with and knew to be accessible. Not surprisingly, the list was not very long because of the relative rarity of accessible gynecologists.

However, we are constantly looking for more feedback to expand this list to include other states within the United States and other countries. This information is a vital tool to help other women finding doctors and facilities that they can work with. If you have personal experience with a doctor or facility you would recommend, please take a few minutes to anonymously fill out the Accessible Gynecologists Survey so we can make that information available to everyone!

If you don’t personally have anyone to recommend, consider passing on this information to your friends. Thank you to everyone who has helped gather this information!