Press Release

20 May 2021

Refuge launches critical accessibility features on its National Domestic Abuse Helpline Website

With 2 in 4 women with disabilities likely to experience domestic abuse, Refuge launches critical accessibility features on its National Domestic Abuse Helpline Website on Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) 

  • 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime. Women with disabilities are more than twice as likely to experience domestic abuse compared to non-disabled women.
  • Women with additional sensory and mobility needs are subjected to abuse for much longer; data from across Refuge’s services shows that for women with disabilities abuse lasted on average for 9 years, compared to 6.8 years for all women.
  • New features include support from our expert Helpline Advisers via British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation, plus changes to our Helpline website to ensure screen reader compatibility and improved keyboard accessibility for women who need it
  • Website translated into three frequently needed languages.
  • WATCH – Video explaining the Helpline service in BSL

Refuge, the country’s largest single provider of specialist domestic services, and sole provider of the National Domestic Abuse Helpline (NDAH – telephone and website/live chat) has launched a range of new digital functions to increase accessibility for those needing life-saving and life-changing support.

With Refuge continuing to see around a 60% increase in calls and contacts logged on its Helpline services the charity has today launched an enhanced version of its NDAH website to ensure some of the most vulnerable women experiencing abuse can access support.

Refuge consulted with Deaf women and worked in partnership with SignHealth, the Deaf health charity, to launch a British Sign Language (BSL) service on This means users can click on the BSL symbol at the top of the website to receive free, confidential support from our expert Helpline Advisers via a qualified interpreter. SignVideo will provide the interpretation, which is available Monday – Friday, 10am – 6pm.  11 million people in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing and there are 151,000 BSL users in the UK.  20% of the UK population (14.1 million people) reported a disability in 2018/19.

Refuge was delighted to work in partnership with SignHealth in developing this service; their team   helped develop resources and delivered training for Refuge’s Helpline advisors, to help them understand the unique needs of callers who may come through to us on the BSL service.

To enhance accessibility yet more, Refuge has also launched a new language selector feature across its National Domestic Abuse Helpline website meaning women can now read vital content in Spanish, Bengali and Polish.  We have also improved accessibility for blind and partially sighted women by ensuring compatibility with two different screen readers, NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) and Voiceover. Keyboard accessibility has been improved so that women who use a keyboard to navigate websites can more efficiently access the information they need on domestic abuse.

Refuge worked in partnership with digital inclusion experts at our web agency Wunderman Thompson, and accessibility experts Hassell Inclusion tested our changes to ensure quality. The improvements follow the launch of the Live Chat service which was implemented last year, enabling more women to access the Helpline team via digital channels.

Caroline* a domestic abuse survivor with severe hearing loss said: “He used my hearing difficulties against me to degrade and control me. He knew I couldn’t hear it when he would creep up behind me. Having a hearing impairment is isolating in itself, and you can feel rock bottom, but abuse is also isolating. It’s a double whammy because an abuser has no empathy, they use it against you to make you feel inferior and you feel so alone.”

Ruth Davison, Refuge chief executive said: “We know there are many women experiencing domestic abuse across the country with additional needs and we want to ensure we are reaching them. Being deaf, hard of hearing, blind or having any other additional needs should never be a barrier to accessing support; but whose data shows that many of these women are experiencing more abuse and for longer.

Our message to all women is that You Are Not Alone, and Refuge is here for you.  We are committed to ensuring we reach all women who need our specialist services, and we will continue this work into the future. This has been a huge team effort and we are proud to be launching our BSL service alongside many other improvements to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline website to ensure yet more women can access the help they need and deserve.”

Marie Vickers, SignHealth said “SignHealth has been incredibly committed with working with Refuge on this project. Throughout the pandemic, Deaf women have not been able to access services via telephone helplines. This has added more barriers for Deaf women to come forward and ask for support. Refuge has listened to what Deaf women need and taken on board SignHealth’s experiences of working with Deaf survivors, including the urgent need for accessible services and Deaf awareness. We are pleased that the development of BSL interpretation on the National Domestic Abuse Helpline will improve access to the service for Deaf women across the country.”

Victoria Atkins MP, Minister for Safeguarding said: “Domestic abuse is a horrendous crime and sadly we know that people with disabilities are often likely to face greater barriers in being able to access support. These new accessibility features launched by Refuge are a brilliant example of the types of steps that we all need to be taking to ensure everyone gets access to the help they need. As a government we are determined to tackle domestic abuse, which is why we introduced and passed the Domestic Abuse Act, to fundamentally transform our response to tackling this crime and provide greater protections from all forms of abuse.”

Jonathan Hassell, CEO of Hassell Inclusion said “Considering all your online user’s needs is important, but even more so for Refuge, who have not only developed tools to help victims of domestic abuse but have also considered their digital accessibility needs at the moment victims reach out for help – the moment of crisis. It was a pleasure to work with Refuge to help them meet their accessibility goals, and ensure that the greatest number of people can access their essential resources.”

Mhairi Sharp, CEO of the National Emergencies Trust (NET) who funded the project, said: “This latest step by Refuge will make a significant difference, ensuring no-one is left behind during times of crisis. We are proud to be able to support this transformational project and inspired by how swiftly, and collaboratively, Refuge has worked to make this change happen. The safety and needs of survivors are at the heart of what we all want to achieve, and this is a huge step forward.”


Editors notes:

  • Visit the National Domestic Abuse Helpline website to see the new features.
  • 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime (ONS, Domestic abuse victim characteristics, England and Wales: year ending March 2020).
  • Women with disabilities are more than twice as likely to experience domestic abuse than non-disabled women with the figure being as high as 2 in 4 women. (ONS, Domestic abuse victim characteristics, England and Wales: year ending March 2020).
  • Refuge data shows for women with disabilities abuse lasts on average 9 years, compared to 6.8 years for all women across the services. (Data from Refuge’s performance reports 2019/20)
  • 11 million people in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing and there are 151,000 BSL users in the UK. (ONS data)20% of the UK population (14.1 million people), reported a disability in 2018/19 (DWP, Family Resources Survey 2018/19). 
  • Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline website accessibility project, has been made possible thanks to funding from the National Emergencies Trust (NET), whose Coronavirus Appeal launched in March 2018 to support those affected by the pandemic. The National Emergencies Trust and Refuge joined forces last year to ensure dedicated funding for survivors of domestic abuse.

*Name changed for anonymity


About Refuge:

Refuge is the country’s largest single provider of specialist domestic services and supports more than 7,000 women and children on any given day. Refuge also runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is the gateway to accessing specialist support across the country. More than one in four women in England and Wales experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.

Please signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For real time automated guidance on how to secure your personal devices Refuge also has a Tech Safety Tool.