Safety Tips for People with Disabilities to Avoid Getting Mugged

Statistics show that mobility-impaired and visually-impaired people are more often targeted by muggers, who assume they are an easy mark.  You can help reduce the likelihood of getting mugged by following these safety tips put together by Marsha Saxton of the World Institute on Disability (WID):

  1. Avoid isolated areas, uninhabited parks, parking lots, garages, and alleyways; stick to well-lit, high traffic areas.
  2. Be aware.  Remain alert and move along with purpose.  Avoid using electronics, such as a phone, while you are walking.  Thieves often target distracted victims.
  3. Muggers depend on people acting “normal”, meaning silent, passive, and unwilling to call attention to themselves.  If you suspect someone is following or approaching you, don’t act normal!  Make noise!
  4. If you are unsure a stranger isn’t just asking for help of some kind, speak loudly:  “Hello!  Can I help you?”  Don’t worry about being appropriate! If it turns out to be a nice person, just say, “Sorry, I got nervous.”
  5. If you feel you are being followed or harassed but can’t see what’s happening, sing or hum a song loudly.  All You Need Is Love is a good choice.
  6. If you continue to feel they are following you, shout, “No!  Help!  Police!  Get away!” and repeat this until they leave.  Then move towards where other pedestrians are more likely to be.  Again, don’t worry about acting weird.  Acting weird is your best defense!  If you have a speech disability, just make verbal noises as loudly as you can.
  7. If traffic is not a danger, you can see adequately, and you are still being followed, move toward the curb or into the street to avoid being pulled into shrubs or yards.  If you cannot see traffic clearly, move as best you can away from houses and buildings toward the curb.  Of course, stay alert for traffic.  Keep yelling.
  8. Wear a whistle around your neck that you can blow to call attention.
  9. Consider carrying five dollars in ones in an easy-to-reach pocket to be able to “hand over some money” so the mugger will grab it and run.
  10. If the mugger shows a weapon (i.e., a gun or knife), just cooperate and give over your wallet.  It is not worth risking your life!  Don’t bargain about your valuables (e.g., “Can I keep my driver’s license?”)  This generally doesn’t go well, especially for disabled people who may be awkward or fumbling in handing over valuables.  Muggers are not in the mood to bargain.  They are desperate and/or on drugs.  Some people do get wallets back eventually, but you won’t get your life back if you get killed.
  11. Don’t get heroic and try to use your wheelchair, crutch or cane as a defense weapon.  Not a good idea!  The mugger can grab you or your device.  You want to avoid any physical contact or getting thrown down.
  12. Practice thinking of these tips on your way to your train, car or when walking or rolling home.  Take an attitude of “Don’t mess with me!”  Muggers can sense resistance in their target’s attitude, and tend to choose those who seem like easy victims.
  13. If you get mugged, call the police immediately or as soon as possible.  To reach 911 from a cell phone in Berkeley, dial 510-981-5911, otherwise you might get sent to the California Highway Patrol.  Put this number in your phone!

The police recommend a couple of additional tips:

  • Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
  • Carry your purse or backpack close to your body, not dangling by the straps, and put your wallet in an inside coat or front pants pocket. If you use a wheelchair, keep your purse or wallet tucked snugly between you and the inside of the chair.

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