Domestic Violence Accessible Shelter Spotlight: Freedom House

When Barrier Free Living began its work in New York in the early 1980s, the city was experiencing a surge of homelessness among people with physical disabilities.


The newly launched non-profit bought a Lower East Side old school house for $1 and established transitional housing that provided critical shelter for clients who needed around the clock care. But staff soon realized there was an overlapping community with similarly underserved and urgent needs: domestic violence survivors with disabilities.

A new mission for the organization emerged. Over the next four decades, Barrier Free Living developed its own groundbreaking crisis intervention services and expanded outreach through its mental health clinic. Its staff trained hundreds of police officers, lawyers, and health officials at agencies across the city to better support survivors of domestic violence with disabilities. And, after steadily fighting for state funding for more than a dozen years, it opened Freedom House, the first totally accessible domestic violence shelter in the nation.

Since 2006, Freedom House has provided a safe space for thousands of women, men, and gender non-conforming people with disabilities from across New York City and as far away as Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Ghana. Clients have included those living with paralysis sustained through trauma, congenital conditions, and, in some cases, through the domestic abuse itself; children with disabilities have also sometimes accompanied parents leaving a violent relationship

While some emergency shelters offer limited accessibility, Freedom House was designed to fully meet the needs of all clients.

“It’s not just ramps,” says Cynthia Amodeo, chief executive officer of Barrier Free Living. “Every detail has been thought about.”

At Freedom House, wheelchairs easily fit in the double wide hallways. Doors and cabinets are opened with push buttons and levered handles. Units can be made bigger to fit medical equipment. Bathrooms offer roll-in showers and accessible sinks. Light switches, counters, and microwaves are installed at lower heights. An adjustable dining room table in the communal kitchen welcomes a wheelchair user. And meetings with staff, including counselors, take place not in hallways, but offices where furniture is arranged to accommodate wheelchair users.

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Barrier Free Living’s programs and services have evolved over the years to meet the needs of its clients. Freedom House now offers 106 beds and an array of support services, including sexual assault counseling, a family center, and an occupational therapy program that teaches daily living skills ranging from cooking to navigating local buses and subways. A nurse and psychiatrist are onsite, staff is trained in American Sign Language, and a partnership with local legal services.

For its efforts, the organization has earned local and national accolades, including the 2022 Award for Professional Innovation in Victim Services from the Office of Victims of Crime (OVC) at the Department of Justice. Announcing the award, OVC praised Barrier Free Living’s “ability to provide effective responses to underserved populations and produce systematic change through advocacy.”

But its work is not done yet. Amodeo is frequently invited to speak at domestic violence and trauma conferences across the country where she spotlights the high rates of abuse faced by people with disabilities alongside the lack of services and supports available to them. As she urges organizations to build new partnerships with local disability organizations and create policies and procedures that welcome, rather than discourage, inclusion, Amodeo is cautiously optimistic that widespread change is possible.

“People are talking more about disability compared to 20 years ago,” she says. “They are curious. They're asking questions. They want to know more. Is the service provision where we want it to be? No, absolutely not. We still have a long way to go. But at least the conversation is being started.”

For more information about Freedom House and Barrier Free Living, visit its website at

The Reeve Foundation Quality of Life Grants Program provides funding to organizations seeking to improve access and services for people with paralysis, including shelters that serve survivors of domestic violence. For more information, visit our website at

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

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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.