I have been working in the field of technical assistance for victim services for only about five years now. In that time, the most exciting shift in the field that I have seen has been the amount of emphasis that is placed on ensuring access to services and even training for underserved communities and people with disabilities. Not to say this population was being ignored previously, however, making the intentional step to the inclusion of all populations is necessary in what has been a historically ableist society. This movement serves an important purpose by amplifying the voices of survivors who have traditionally slipped through the cracks or been unintentionally dissuaded from receiving help or pursuing justice within our current systems.
Older survivors, children, and people with disabilities specifically, face a number of cultural, legal, social, and even physical barriers to community involvement and support. This is most easily seen in people with physical disabilities but can also lead to those without visible impediments feeling isolated or undeserving of what support is available. Independence and autonomy are highly valued in our culture, and while this is not entirely negative, it inadvertently leaves those who are most likely to need support services with the least amount of access to those services. This is why an intentional movement of inclusion for those most vulnerable is necessary. Since its founding 20 years ago, the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL) has worked to bring in older survivors from the margins and address the unique dynamics that impact survivors later in life.
Moving forward, research providing insight into the impact of training programs will be pivotal to developing and maintaining the most accessible array of services to those who need them most. There have been multiple international studies showing the benefits of training staff on how to understand and best serve marginalized communities, though these were often targeted groups. In the US, Pennsylvania has the only statewide initiative to currently have assessments and training for accessibility and to intentionally support victim services in reaching those most severely impacted by violence. The research in this area, although limited, has shown that training on disabilities, cultural differences, and unique circumstances that encompass underserved populations, creates a level of awareness for service providers that assists in the overall goal of serving their communities.
It is exciting to see where this field is heading in terms of inclusion, and I firmly believe we are on the precipice of a culture shift that will emphasize the value of human dignity across all walks of life!