Accessible Shelters for Survivors of Domestic Violence with Paralysis

Domestic violence is a public health issue affecting millions of families across the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 41 percent of women and 26 percent of men have experienced acts of sexual violence, stalking and physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. People living with disabilities, and especially women, face higher rates of abuse and violent crime than those without disabilities.


Emergency housing can provide a critical bridge for people leaving violent relationships, but accessibility can vary widely from shelter to shelter. Some shelters located in older buildings may offer only the most basic aspects of access, such as a ramped entrance, while newer construction built to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may feature levered doorknobs and adapted bathroom and shower facilities.

All shelters operated by a state or local government agency are required by the ADA to be accessible to people with disabilities. Private shelters operated by non-profit organizations are also subject to the ADA and prohibited from discriminating against clients with disabilities; services provided to people without disabilities must be provided to those with disabilities. (e.g. if transportation to the shelter is offered to women without disabilities, it must be offered to women with disabilities.)

It is important for people with paralysis to understand their rights under the ADA when seeking help from domestic violence prevention agencies, both public and private. Whether the person in need of shelter is a survivor of domestic violence or an accompanying child living with a disability, the ADA mandates that reasonable accommodations must be made to support access and use of the shelter and services. Necessary medical equipment must be allowed even if the shelter has an item limit per person. Policies prohibiting pets in shelters do not apply to service animals, which must be allowed under federal law.

There are many resources available at the national, state, and local level to help domestic violence survivors living with paralysis find emergency housing. The following tips can help those in need safely search for accessible shelters, identify organizations that offer support services and crisis intervention, and create a safety plan for leaving.


Computer and telephone usage may be monitored by an abusive partner. Before searching for domestic violence-related resources, review these tips to help minimize any digital footprint.

  • Delete browsing history (and cookies and toolbar search) for all domestic violence-related webpages. (Keep general search history intact so the abuser doesn’t grow suspicious.)
  • National and local domestic violence prevention websites will almost always feature an “escape” button. Clicking this button will immediately close the screen and replace it with a neutral website such as Google.
  • For websites without an “escape” button, the shortcut command for a quick exit is CONTROL+W on a PC and COMMAND+W on a Mac.
  • Phone use may be monitored by an abusive partner. Delete phone calls and texts related to shelter searches or safety planning. (Be aware that partners on shared accounts can request records from phone companies.)

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There are many national, state, and local programs dedicated to supporting survivors of domestic violence. The following list spotlights helplines, government agencies, and non-profit organizations to contact when seeking an accessible shelter or support services.

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline connects callers to a range of service providers including local shelters. It also provides referrals to agencies that offer legal, economic self-sufficiency, sexual assault, and children’s services, and helps people create a safety plan for leaving abusive situations.


Call 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 for anonymous, confidential help available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


  • State Domestic Violence Coalitions, funded by the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), help survivors find local shelters and resources in large and small communities throughout the country; some states also offer specific liaison services for domestic violence survivors with disabilities including crisis intervention, transportation, and employment assistance.


Contact information for every U.S state and territory can be found on the FVPSA website.


  • The StrongHearts Native Helpline provides referrals to Native-centered domestic violence and sexual violence service providers in the U.S, including 62 shelters nationwide. The Minnesota-based non-profit organization, developed for and run by Native Americans, also helps survivors with safety planning and crisis intervention.

To find a shelter or access other services, call or text 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) for anonymous, confidential help 24/7 or visit the website

  • Centers for Independent Living (CILs), and other disability advocacy and service organizations, can help survivors of domestic violence with disabilities identify accessible local resources, including shelters, transportation options, and crisis intervention programs.


For a directory of local CILs, visit the Administration for Community Living website.



The logistics of leaving an abusive relationship can be especially complicated for a person with paralysis. If possible, create a safety plan that anticipates individual needs and potential barriers ahead of time, including:

What to pack: Critical personal items to carry might include a driver’s license, passport, green card, social security card, SSI documentation, birth certificates for you and your children, cash, bank account numbers, medications, assistive technology devices, court orders, restraining orders, police reports or documentation of previous abuse, medical records and daily supplies, including catheters.

Transportation barriers: Can you safely access a car or van? Is there a friend who can take you? Does the shelter you are going to provide transportation for clients? Can the police department or a local domestic violence or disability advocacy group help coordinate your transportation?

Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website to learn more or call 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) for comprehensive help creating a safety plan.


Sources: National Domestic Violence Hotline, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office on Women’s Health, Disability Rights Wisconsin: Accessibility Resources for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Service Providers, National Network to End Domestic Violence, Office of Family Violence Prevention and Services, Americans with Disabilities Act National Network.

About the Author - Reeve Staff

This blog was written by the Reeve Foundation for educational purposes. For more information please reach out to

Reeve Staff

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.