Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW) is a statewide resource for individuals, families and service professionals who are concerned with disability issues. The agency’s Victim Advocacy Program serves people of all ages who are victims of crime or abuse, including people with developmental disabilities, mental illness, physical or sensory disabilities and traumatic brain injuries.
Betsy Riedl, the agency’s volunteer and training coordinator, says people with disabilities are often targeted because it may be more difficult for them to communicate and access help.
“People with mental health or cognitive impairments may not even recognize that what happened to them is actually a crime,” she said. “They may not have the ability to communicate clearly and articulate what happened.”
According to data collected in 2014 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of crimes against people with disabilities is more than twice that for people without disabilities.
The project, which is funded by the Crime Victims Fund, is seeking volunteers who will be trained to ensure that people with disabilities who become the victim of a crime receive advocacy, services and support so they can find justice, safety and stability.
Riedl said the agency partnered with the Volunteer Center because they are looking for local advocates in a specialized volunteer role.
“The Volunteer Center is that one-stop place where people who are looking for something specific go,” she said, “or for people who have no idea of what to do, they come here to find the options that are available for them.”
Volunteers will receive a considerable amount of training. The agency is seeking folks who have worked with victims, such as retired nurses, law enforcement officials, teachers or social workers, or family members who may have been touched personally by victimization or disability issues who may want to give back.
The Victims Advocacy Project has a handful of volunteers in southeastern and south central parts of the state who currently are training. Since they have clients all over the state, they are recruiting volunteers statewide.
Volunteers would work with clients to make sure that they get access to the same resources that a person without a disability would have. In the case of a person becoming the victim of identity theft, it might mean contacting the housing authority, credit bureau or law enforcement.
“This is such a great opportunity to give a voice to people who haven’t had a voice,” she said. “And to help insure that people with disabilities get the same treatment and the same access to assistance that people without disabilities have.”
“My whole career has been about empowering people and building people up,” Riedl said. This program helps people who have barriers due to disabilities and are a victim of crime to feel empowered. I love to empower people.”
For information on how you can help a person with disabilities, contact Carol at the Volunteer Center at 920-832-9360 or firstname.lastname@example.org.