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Communicating with Individuals with Disabilities

Task forces need to make sure that people with disabilities are taken into account when they develop protocols for victim outreach, conduct investigations, and provide services. For example, outreach materials should be made available in alternate formats like Braille, e-mail, rich text, and large print for trafficking survivors who are sight-impaired. Service animals should be allowed to stay with the person to whom they belong in all areas of the facility where clients normally go. Someone with a service animal may not be segregated from other clients or agency activities. Do not touch a service animal without the permission of its owner. 

OVC TTAC offers a 3-day training, Supporting Crime Victims with Disabilities, which highlights the various agencies, organizations and systems that can assist crime victims with disabilities.

Hearing Impaired

  • Face the person with the hearing loss and speak directly to them instead of facing and addressing their interpreter.
  • Use your normal tone of voice and speak at normal volume.
  • Greet the person verbally first and wait for them to put their hand out before you reach out to shake their hand.
  • If others can see the individual or interpreter sign, they can listen or eavesdrop, so make sure you have visual privacy.
  • Not all hearing-impaired foreign nationals know American Sign Language (ASL) and may know another form of sign language. Make sure you have an appropriate interpreter.
  • English is often a second language for people who cannot hear, even if they were born in an English-speaking country. Concepts such as “human trafficking” may not be easy to translate into ASL, so use simple language and ask questions to make sure the survivor understands what you are saying.

Vision Impaired

  • Identify anyone (including yourself) who enters or leaves a room or begins a conversation with a person who has vision problems. Watch for cues that the individual is uncomfortable when others enter the room. 
  • If a person asks for assistance getting to a bathroom or performing another task, tell them you are going to touch them, then use the back of your hand to contact the back of their hand. This helps orient the individual to your body position. Someone who cannot see will usually hold a guide’s right arm just above the elbow and walk a half step behind the guide. If you are guiding someone, move slowly and quietly because sudden movements may trigger a trauma response, especially in sex trafficking victims. 

For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Section 4.5 Victim Populations.