Physical abuse occurs when another person intentionally injures or inflicts pain on another person. People with disabilities who have been physically abused report being hit, kicked, punched and tripped. Children and adults with disabilities have a unique risk of being restrained in dangerous, often deadly, ways.

Despite federal and state laws that prohibit or severely limit the practice, teachers, caregivers and others in a position of power use restraints as a way of controlling behavior. The U.S. Department of Education reports that nearly 40,000 students were physically restrained in the nation’s schools during the 2009-2010 school year. Of those, approximately 70% of the students had disabilities, even though students with disabilities represent just 12% of the entire student population.

Students with disabilities were twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions. In many cases, students were victims of “prone restraints,” a particularly dangerous form of restraint that has resulted in the deaths of dozens of students in recent years. Prone restraints involve holding an individual’s hands and feet while he or she is face down. In many, several adults team up to subdue a child. In 2012 alone, prone restraints were used nearly 2,000 times in Minnesota schools.

Additional Resources

The Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Public Schools: The Legal Issues, Congressional Research Service (2010)

Human Services Restraint: Its Past and Future, David Ferleger, American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (2008)

Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports

What Parents Should Know About the Use of Restraints Seclusion, New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities

Seclusion and Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers, United States Government Accountability Office (2009)

Restraint and Seclusion Resource Document, U.S. Department of Education (2012)

ABC NEWS Investigation: Death at School Video (Nov. 2012)

Impairing Education: Corporal Punishment of Students with Disabilities in US Public Schools, ACLU/Human Rights Watch (2009)

Restraint and Seclusion of Children in Minnesota Public Schools, Minnesota Disability Law Center & Minnesota’s Protection and Advocacy Agency (Feb. 2010)

When Does Physical Restraint Become Abuse?, U.S. News & World Report (2009)