In 2010, a burglary in the United States occurred every 14 seconds. While everyone is susceptible to being a victim of this crime, the limitations that disabilities often present can put someone at even greater risk for harm. However, there’s no need to live your life in fear! With the proper knowledge, preparation, and home adjustments, you can secure your home and protect your family against intruders.
This guide outlines the risks those with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities face against home invasion, and identifies ways to overcome them. It will conclude with resources that can help you in the event you fall prey to a home invader. Few things are as important as feeling safe in your own home and protecting your loved ones, so consider your risks and solutions carefully when deciding what’s right for you.
Home Preparation for Those with Physical Disabilities
A physical disability could give an intruder an edge over your speed, strength, or general mobility. Further, most homes aren’t designed with disability access in mind, let alone accessibility in the event of a break-in. But these risks can be addressed with the right preparation and potentially a few minor home modifications.
Ensure that your environment easily accommodates you.
- If you’re in a wheelchair and have trouble squeezing through doorways in your home, fleeing in the event of an emergency can be a problem.
- A deadbolt for your door is more of a burden than it is helpful if it’s a struggle for you to reach.
- Under the American Disability Act, your landlord must provide reasonable modifications to your rented or leased home.
- As a homeowner, there are programs that can help fund modifications to make your home safer.
Keep doors and windows locked at all times, even when you’re home.
- Statistics suggest that 70% of burglars use some amount of force to enter a dwelling, but the preference is to find an unlocked way in.
- Even second-story windows should always stay locked; you never know what lengths a determined thief will go to.
- Most homes have them at standing height, so if you’re in a wheelchair it’s virtually useless.
- Since burglars often pose as delivery men, painters, or even lost out-of-towners who need directions, it’s important to know who’s at the door before you open it.
Never allow anyone in who you don’t know.
- Whether it’s a door-to-door salesman, a supposed handyman offering to clean your gutters, or someone who claims to have hit your parked car, never grant entry to an unexpected stranger.
- Ask that loved ones call ahead before stopping by. This will help you feel secure about who is on the other side of the door.
- Always bring your phone with you when the doorbell rings; if it’s an unwelcome or suspicious visitor, you can immediately contact help if needed.
- Installing a security system can be a great way to help keep you safe, but the decision often poses many questions for individuals thinking about investing in one. This resource sheds light on many of the questions people have regarding home security systems.
- There are all kinds of systems to meet your needs: they may have video cameras, remote access, motion sensors, or blinking lights to assist those hard of hearing, just to name a few.
- Your local police department likely offers home security surveys that can offer you insight into your home’s vulnerable areas and give you a better idea of what your needs are.
Home Invasion Preparation for Those with Mental Disabilities
Criminals often scout potential locations they’re interested in pursuing. It’s not uncommon for them to take note of homes with children, especially those with mental disabilities. Though the child is usually not the target, intruders may look to exploit a parent or caretaker distracted with caregiving duties or overcoming their loved one’s meltdown. Further, someone with a cognitive disability may be especially susceptible to manipulation or simply not be socially aware enough to realize a home invasion is occurring.
If you’re the caregiver for someone who has an intellectual disability, it’s important to help them find a way to communicate that they are in danger. This may mean giving them a whistle or bell that they always keep on them to sound in the event of an emergency or anytime they feel that they’re in danger. Go through practice scenarios to ensure they understand what constitutes a dangerous situation and what their response should be. Keep in mind a few talking points:
Always keep exterior doors locked.
Always use the peephole to see who’s at the door.
Never answer the door for anyone unfamiliar.
Discuss unexpected visitors:
- In about 18% of reported home invasions, the homeowner voluntarily let the offender inside.
- In about 65% of burglaries, the offender was not a stranger.
- Someone could stop by at a time they know a caregiver isn’t around and exploit the hospitality of being welcomed in with no questions asked.
- Come up with a list of who is always welcome to drop by (grandparents, older siblings, etc.) and request that anyone else only make planned visits. Most family and friends are understanding of this kind of precaution and don’t mind calling ahead.
Never let in a service provider without caregiver guidance.
Never tell anyone over the phone that they are home alone, or talk about a time in the future that they’ll be home alone.
What to do when approached by a stranger in public:
- Never give their name, phone number, or address to anyone.
- Never talk about any times they may be home alone or with limited supervision.
- Never “lend” a stranger anything, especially any valuable electronics.
- Never allow a stranger to walk them home, no matter how nice he or she may seem.
- If a stranger refuses to leave them alone and they feel threatened, they should look for a police officer.
Go over these conversations and established emergency plans with any other caregivers. It might be helpful to create printed emergency handbooks to keep both at home and in travel bags. Include what to do in dangerous scenarios, emergency phone numbers, and a list (with photos) of acceptable drop-by visitors. Just be sure they know it’s not something to show off to just anyone — if the wrong person were to figure out the system, it could easily be taken advantage of.
Part of your safety plan should include a designated “safe room.” Some homeowners choose to go high-tech by reinforcing the walls and adding electronic security features to a room, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. You can simply decide on a safe space where your loved one can lock themselves in the event of a break-in. Keep a charged, silenced phone and a back-up charger in the space, and do your best to ensure they know how to use it to contact help. Do practice drills on a regular basis at different times of the day to ensure the knowledge is retained and that they’ll be prepared in the event of an emergency.
If any of your exterior doors have decorative glass on or around them, line them with privacy film to eliminate snooping eyes. This is especially important for homes with a mentally disabled resident — they may know not to answer the door for strangers, but it may not occur to them that a stranger may be able to see them through the decorative glass and realize they’re home alone.
Emotional Disability Home Invasion Prevention
Emotional disabilities like post-traumatic stress disorder or bipolar disorder can put you at a disadvantage, especially if the offender has found a way to turn your condition against you. If the wrong person figures out how to trigger you into an episode and take advantage, the outcome can be grim.
Though it’s almost impossible to predict when someone will use a trigger to his advantage over you, you can find ways to be prepared for such an occasion. Create a safety plan for overcoming an episode so that you’ll be prepared to cope when the time comes, and do what you can to prepare for an unexpected emergency:
Keep a list of emergency numbers handy at all times, including that of trusted friends and family members.
Always keep your phone on you when answering the door in case of emergency.
If on prescribed medication, keep up with your correct doses.
When company is over, keep a special item nearby that brings you comfort (perhaps a favorite photo, an award, or a sentimental gift from a loved one). It doesn’t have to be in your hands or obviously placed, but keeping it in sight and easily accessible may help calm your nerves.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help when feeling overwhelmed, but be selective when choosing someone to confide in. It’s important to find someone trustworthy who will not only be understanding and compassionate, but show up should you need them.
Consider talking to a therapist or medical professional to help identify potential triggers and come up with ways to overcome them.
After a Break-In: Resources That Can Help
Sometimes, you can take every preventative measure and still find yourself facing the ramifications of a home invasion. You are not alone, and there are programs and groups that can help you.
The Victims of Crime Act requires states to offer reimbursement to crime victims for damages not covered by private insurance, Medicaid, or Social Security. Victims must file a report with law enforcement, then a claim with the state. There are two kinds of grants:
- Victim compensation may cover losses related to medical and dental care, counseling, and lost wages.
- Victim assistance may cover repairing broken locks and windows, providing emergency shelter, and offer support in working through the criminal justice system.
The National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) offers information resources and agencies that can help victims of crime. It’s searchable at both state and federal levels.
The U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) provides resource maps for crime victim services, information on grants and funding for crime victims, and information specific to victims with disabilities.
Don’t let your disability make you feel less secure in your home. With the right preventative steps and basic home modifications, you can ensure that home is always a place you feel safe.