Successful Communication

A person with disabilities is entitled to the full protection of the law by participating in the legal process on equal terms with others. This can mean that special accommodations must be made for communicating with the person about what has happened.

To prepare for effective communication, you must gauge the abilities of the victim and others involved who may need help. If you do not already know the abilities, you can look for clues in speech, behavior, and response to you. Clues may include limited vocabulary, impairment in speech, hearing, or vision, and difficulty in understanding questions or in answering questions about details or sequence.

People with disabilities can comprehend more than they can express verbally. They often communicate in acts rather than words, but they react in ways common to all victims of sexual assault. They can be easily frustrated and frightened by first responders, or they can be easily influenced and overly anxious to please in answering questions.

It is your responsibility as the first responder to determine what is needed to successfully communicate with the person in an interview and to get the necessary help. Assistance may require a specific device or it may mean using translators, interpreters, signers or Assistive Technology. Confidentiality and informed consent must be explained and obtained.

Baladerian, N.J., Heisler, C., & Hertica, M. (n.d.) Child abuse victims with disabilities: A curriculum for law nforcement first responders and child protective services frontline workers-participant manual. California: Child abuse and neglect disability outreach program of arc riverside. Retrieved from