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Accommodations for People with Intellectual Disabilities

Vermonters with developmental disabilities are often some of the most powerless members of our communities.  They are more at risk of abuse because they are often socially and physically isolated.  Studies consistently show people with developmental disabilities are more likely to experience sexual abuse than people without disabilities.

A person who receives long-term disability services might have hundreds of staff supporting them in their lifetime.  However, many support staff do not receive training on sexual or domestic violence or how to provide trauma-informed services.  This contributes to an overall environment in which many people with intellectual disabilities are afraid to disclose sexual violence.  People with developmental disabilities often need and want the respectful and responsive services provided by advocacy programs.

Intellectual ability can be impacted by a number of things, including Autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and traumatic brain injury.  You do not need to know a person’s diagnosis in order to advocate with the individual. There are two important global issues to remember:

  • Not everyone with intellectual disabilities adapts in the same way.
  • “Mental Age” is an outdated concepts. A 35 year old has 35 years of experiences, and a 35 year old body, regardless of their abilities in different areas.

Respectful Engagement
Treat adults as adults.  Support the person’s right to make choices, and ask them how best to work with them.  You can ask, “I have a bunch of options for you to think about. What’s the best way for me to give those to you?”…
Additional information on respectful engagement with people with intellectual disabilities

Common Accommodations


People with intellectual disabilities may employ a number of different strategies and tools.  Tools may include graphic communication boards or computer-voiced systems. Feel free to ask the person how best to communicate with them…
Additional information on communication topics regarding people with intellectual disabilities


Some people with intellectual disabilities have lived sheltered lives. Others have lived in institutions.  People may not have had opportunities to learn much about their bodies, reproductive systems, or their sexual rights…
Additional information on medical topics regarding people with intellectual disabilities


People with intellectual disabilities may be entirely independent, or they may have multiple community supports. Regardless of the level of support a person receives, the person should be making the decisions. Service providers should be respecting their choices…
Additional information on independence-related topics regarding people with intellectual disabilities


Some people with intellectual disabilities rely on a network of family, friends, and services for transportation…
Additional information on transportation topics regarding people with intellectual disabilities

Tips for Collaborating on Behalf of People with Intellectual Disabilities

During a year-long collaboration between Howard Center and the Women’s Rape Crisis Center (WRCC), the organizations developed a Collaborative Agreement (pdf) which can provide a model for similar partnerships in other communities.

Green Mountain Self-Advocates developed a guidebook for people with developmental disabilities to help them recognize and respond (pdf) to violence in the lives of their peers, and a Communication Guide for advocates. Both these guides may be helpful for advocates who have limited experience working with people with intellectual disabilities.

In Our Own Words

In My Language (on YouTube)
A young woman with autism who talks about how she things, and about how she likes people to talk about her.