Fears about safety arise most often when people with disabilities are somewhat independent. They may be able to manage to some extent their own but may not have the experience and judgement to deal with situations where they could be at risk. Good preparation is certainly part of the solution.

We have included safety tips throughout the Young Adults section. Go through these Safety pages with your family member and talk about questions they have. Constantly reaffirm safe practices so that when they encounter a potentially dangerous situation, they recognize it and know how to react.

Unhealthy Relationships

Families often cite concerns about their family member with an intellectual disability being taken advantage of. Of course, exploitation and abuse can be a danger for anyone. For people with disabilities, as for others, knowing what forms abuse can take and avoiding people/situations where they could be abused are key. Help them to know the signs of a real friend, as opposed to someone who may just be acting friendly in order to take advantage of them—to borrow money or things and not return them, or to lead them into unsafe situations.

Prepare your family member as best you can. Help them practice various scenarios such as calling for help, and take as many safety precautions as possible, but don’t let this fear stop them from having a full life.


People who have intellectual disabilities are obviously vulnerable to abuse–physical, emotional, and sexual.

Some Precautions:

  • Role play different situations with your family member so they can recognize abuse when it happens. Help your young person understand the different forms that abuse can take and that they should never accept being abused.

  • Talk to them about “good and bad touch.” Focus on the idea that they have the right to refuse someone who tries to touch them, to tell them “No!” and to get away from the person. Help them plan how they could get away and call for help in different situations. Nurture a trusting relationship with your family member so that they would feel comfortable telling you if abuse occurred.

  • Help them know how to keep their money and other valuables safe when out in public. (This usually means keeping these items out of sight.)

  • Educate them about sexuality so that they have the awareness and vocabulary to deal with those who may seek to take advantage of them.

Safety in General

Family members often also fear their young person may get lost if they go about in public on their own. For some, going out alone may not be a realizable goal. But for others, excellent preparation and practice is the key.


  • Teach your young person who they can safely ask for help.

  • Teach them about people they definitely should not go with or respond to…strangers especially.

  • Help them to know that when they feel uncomfortable or afraid they should pay attention to their feelings and get away from the situation.

  • Teach them about the kinds of situations they should get away from—to recognize people who are drinking heavily or taking drugs or acting strangely.

  • Give them a cell phone if possible. Program emergency numbers and teach them its use.

  • Make sure they always carry important phone numbers and ID and enough money to get home and/or call for help. Carrying a personal alarm may also be an option.

  • If they take medication, ensure they have an emergency dose with them if possible.

  • Ease them into new social situations—accompany them until they are comfortable.

  • Thoroughly teach needed public transit routes and problem solving if they get lost.

A Workshop on Safety with a Special Focus on Women with Intellectual Disabilities
A Workshop on Safety with a Special Focus on Women with Intellectual Disabilities (119.13KB, PDF)

This document provides more information and links to a workshop and resources focusing on safety for women with intellectual disabilities.

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