Why What You Do Is So Important

The face of a stone statue with tears.

On January 8th, 2018, National Public Radio’s Joe Shapiro presented the first segment in a series, “Abused and Betrayed”, discussing issues surrounding sexual abuse of people with intellectual disabilities.  Individuals with ID are seven times more likely to suffer from such abuse.  For women with ID, the risk is even greater.  

You can find this series by clicking on the image below:

Woman shying away from the shadow of an abuser

In the episode, “She can’t Tell Us What’s Wrong”, Mr. Shapiro tells the story of the rape of a woman who cannot communicate by conventional means.  Her abuse would have gone unreported had a staff worker not walked into the room while the incident was taking place.  The accused rapist is currently awaiting trial, and staff at the facility suspect that there are other probable victims.  

People without effective  communication lack the means to report abuse when it happens.  As many as 373, 000 people with ID currently reside in group homes in the U.S.  Many others continue to live in state institutions, where the risk of abuse may be even higher. In the state of Pennsylvania, 67% of people with intellectual disabilities, who don’t communicate effectively through speech, still lack a formal communication system.  

The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) has issued a statement commending the reporting of Joe Shapiro & colleagues.  This statement includes a Call to Action for government and law enforcement officials to address this epidemic.  The text of this statement can be found by clicking on the image below:

Association of University Centers on Disabilities Logo

AUCD calls for “Improving access to technology, therapies, sign language, and other evidence-based communication strategies, to help people with disabilities who are non-verbal find ways to communicate about what they want and do not want, including avoiding or getting out of abusive situations;”

So, for all of you who continue to advocate for communication, thank you. Thank you to disability rights advocates for telling us about your lives and helping all of us stay focused on inclusion and accessibility. Whether you be a journalist, therapist, direct service provider, or self advocate, we need your tireless efforts.  You have the power to create change and to help those without effective speech live safer, more self-determined lives.   

Thank you.


Kathryn Helland

Kathryn is a certified speech-language pathologist and works with children and adults with complex communication needs. She has been with the TechOWL team since 2015 and is currently working on her doctorate. She would like to examine how to best support AAC users in higher education.

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