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Physical and mental disability: Rates of violence and discrimination

In a recent study, Danish researchers used previously published data to examine rates of violence and discrimination against those with a physical or mental disability.

With a large proportion of the population getting older, the prevalence of disabilities is expected to increase in the years to come. Unfortunately, having one or more disability puts an individual at risk for abuse, whether physical or sexual.

Previous studies have shown people with disabilities experience more violence and discrimination, but the types of violence and discrimination, and whether they are influenced by the type of disability have not been specified. To determine the relationship between a physical or mental disability and violence and discrimination, Dammeyer and Chapman used data from a 2012/2013 Danish survey conducted by The Danish National Centre for Social Research.

Statistics Denmark chose Danish citizens at random to participate in the Survey of Health, Impairment, and Living Conditions in Denmark online. Individuals who did not respond online were given a phone interview. The participants answered questions based on their most severe physical or mental disability, including the type such as motor, blindness, deafness, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, the visibility (how obvious the disability is to others), and severity of their disabilities, and then on experiences of violence and discrimination in the past year. In all, 18,957 participants with an average age of 43.3 years old participated. The results were recently published in the journal BMC Public Health.

Violence against those with disabilities

For this study, violence was categorized as physical, non-physical, and sexual. People without disabilities, people with disabilities and people with mental disabilities reported violence to some degree, at rates of 3.2%, 3.8%, and 6.8%, respectively. People with mental disabilities experienced more violence, and also committed acts of violence to others more often compared to more those with physical disabilities. The severity and visibility of a disability had no effect on the violence experienced. Women with either physical or mental disabilities experienced more sexual violence than their male counterparts, whereas men experienced more physical violence. The highest levels of violence were reported by those with autism, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), schizophrenia/psychosis, and personality disorders, and the lowest levels by people with stress and mood disorders.

Discrimination against those with disabilities

Based on the definition given in the survey, “discrimination occurs when people are unfairly treated because they are perceived as different from others”, the participants answered questions on their personal experiences of discrimination. The participants with a mental disability experienced discrimination through employment or education as well as through public services more than those with physical disabilities. Compared to people with less severe physical disabilities, those with severe physical abilities experienced more discrimination, and those with severe mental disabilities experienced more discrimination from public services than those with less severe mental disabilities.

Visible disabilities, and women with physical disabilities also faced more discrimination, and women with mental disabilities experienced more discrimination than their male counterparts through employment and education. People with autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia/psychosis, and motor disabilities faced the most discrimination out of all physical and mental disabilities. Discrimination was most likely to be underreported by those with stress or mood or disorders, and people with ADHD and personality disorders were more likely to report employment or educational discrimination and public service discrimination, respectively.

The surveying methods used to obtain data may not have been accessible to all people with disabilities. It is possible that the nature of some physical or mental disabilities may have prevented individuals from completing the survey, thus excluding disabilities from the data set. Reports of violence were limited to the past 12 months, which may be too narrow a date range to truly encapsulate previous violence experienced.

Overall, the study provides insight into the specific discriminatory and violent behaviours that people with disabilities face, which with more research into the subject, can be used to find ways to diminish their occurrence.

Written by Monica Naatey-Ahumah, BSc

Reference: Dammeyer, J., and Chapman, M. (2018).A national survey on violence and discrimination among people with disabilities. BMC Public Health,18(355). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-018-5277-0.


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