University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Public Affairs (MC 288)
601 S. Morgan St., Chicago, IL 60607-7113, (312) 996-3456,

January 28, 2000 Contact: Jody Oesterricher (312) 996-8277,


Persons with disabilities are abused at a much higher rate than the general population, but the criminal justice system has been slow to recognize the problem, University of Illinois at Chicago experts say. Last fall, UIC researchers kicked off a project to train adults with disabilities to recognize and prevent abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. The project also teaches persons with disabilities what to do if they are or become victims.

"It's hard for many people to believe that anyone would harm a person with a disability," said Nancy Fitzsimons-Cova, research assistant professor of UIC's department of disability and human development and the principal investigator of the project. "Furthermore, persons with disabilities aren't considered credible."

When a person with a disability who has been abused comes forward to authorities, they are less likely to be believed than is a person without a disability, particularly if that person has a mental disability such as schizophrenia or a cognitive disability such as mental retardation, according to UIC researchers.

Persons with disabilities report abuse at a much lower rate than the general population, in part, because they don't think that authorities will believe their stories, said Fitzsimons-Cova. In the general population, 16 percent of all rape victims report the incident to police. Rape incidents are reported just 3 percent of the time among persons with disabilities. Additionally, the myth that persons with disabilities are asexual means that they rarely receive sexual education, which, in turn, makes it difficult for them to recognize and prevent sexual abuse, Fitzsimons-Cova said.

In Chicago and most other municipalities, neither the police nor other criminal justice agencies record whether crime or abuse victims have disabilities, so hard data is difficult to obtain, making it necessary for experts to extrapolate from other statistics. The lack of hard data makes it hard for experts to document the extent of the problem and, thus, receive government funding to address it.

UIC researchers in 1997 succeeded in obtaining a three-year grant from the National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation and Research to develop the Coalition on Disability and Abuse Advocacy and Empowerment Project. In the first year of the project, researchers recruited an advisory committee to help develop the workshop curriculum, and recruited and trained volunteers -- most with disabilities -- to lead day-long "Taking Charge: Responding to Abuse and Neglect Workshops." The following year, the UIC team held eight pilot workshops attended by about 150 people.

Last fall, they launched a full schedule of 20 workshops to be held throughout the state. They now are working with workshop trainers to plan events on their own and, in this way, move the project away from the university and further into the community.

Reporters may arrange to attend any of the workshops by contacting Jody Oesterreicher at (312) 996-8277;

Below is a preliminary schedule for upcoming workshops being held in Illinois and a sample agenda.

With 25,000 students, the University of Illinois at Chicago is the largest and most diverse university in the Chicago area. UIC is home to the largest medical school in the United States and is one of only 88 national Research I universities. Located just west of Chicago's Loop, UIC is a vital part of the educational, technological and cultural fabric of the entire metropolitan region.

Taking Charge: Responding to Abuse, Neglect and
Financial Exploitation Workshop Agenda
(times may vary)

8:30 a.m. Registration

9 a.m. Welcome and Introduction

9:15 a.m. Module 1 -- Disability and Maltreatment: Trainers discuss definitions of disability and the impact of the general population's attitude toward persons with disabilities.

9:35 a.m. Module 2 -- Your Safety, Your Rights: Trainers show and discuss a video depicting four persons with disabilities in situations that lead, or could lead, to abuse. The characters show how to take charge of the situations.

10:20 a.m. Break

10:35 a.m. Module 3 -- Recognizing Abuse, Neglect and Financial Exploitation: Trainers define abuse, neglect and financial exploitation and discuss the continuum from subtle to overt abuse.

11:05 a.m. Module 4 -- External Barriers to Action: Trainers discuss myths among the general public about persons with disabilities and how these myths and other barriers make it difficult for persons with disabilities to reach out for help, receive help and stop abuse.

11:35 a.m. Break

11:45 a.m. Module 5 -- Internal Barriers to Action: Trainers discuss psychological factors that prevent abuse victims from helping themselves. Trainers emphasize that the longer the maltreatment continues the greater the impact on the victim.

12:30 p.m. Lunch

1:30 p.m. Module 6 -- Taking Charge!: Trainers teach skills that will help participants prevent abuse. For example, participants learn how to be assertive, project self-confidence and move from being a victim to being a survivor. They also learn about resources that may help them prevent or turn around an abusive situation. Trainers lead an hour-long group discussion about a fictional person in an abusive situation.

2:45 p.m. Module 7 -- Understanding the System: Trainers provide comprehensive information about resources that help persons with disabilities prevent or stop abuse. Participants also learn about the administrative and criminal justice systems, the state's attorney's office and how to make a complaint to the police.

3:25 p.m. Break

3:35 p.m. Module 8 -- Self-Advocacy and Empowerment: Putting it All Together!: Trainers lead a group discussion on how to be a self-advocate. Participants engage in role playing and practice skills to stop abuse.

4:45 p.m. Summary and Closing

Taking Charge: Responding to Abuse, Neglect and Financial Exploitation
Illinois Preliminary Schedule

  • Chicago — Feb. 18
    Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities Field Office
    2102 W. Ogden Ave.

  • Jacksonville — March 9
    Jacksonville Center for Independent Living
    60 East Central Park Plaza

  • Washington — March 16
    OSF St. Clare Center
    Route 24 and Cummings Lane

  • Springfield — April 7
    DD Planning Council Office
    830 South Spring Street

  • Wautseka — April 13
    ARC of Iroquois County Branch Office in the Masonic Building
    777 West Walnut Street (Rt. 24, near intersection with Rt. 1)

  • Chicago Heights — April 27
    Carpenter's Hall
    821 Chicago Road

  • Carbondale — April 27
    Location TBA

  • Glen Ellyn — May 12
    Roosevelt Glen
    799 Roosevelt Road, building 4, lower conference room

  • Peoria — May 20
    Easter Seals/United Cerebral Palsy
    507 E. Armstrong Ave.

  • Quincy — May 23
    Blessing Conference Center
    2808 Chestnut


Copyright © 1999 by B&P Consulting, Inc. and University of Illinois at Chicago. All rights reserved.
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