Opening Statement-Tom Hehir

Date: Tue Oct 19 1999 - 00:00:00 EDT

In my experience gender issues and disability receive far
too little attention. In my recent role as the Director of
the Office of Special Education Programs at the US Dept. of
Education, I had the opportunity to increase my familiarity
with research in disability. Two studies highlighted gender
concerns to me.

The National Longitudinal Transition Study, a large cohort
study that looked at the status of high school youth with
disabilities, program characteristics, and outcomes five
years after leaving school is a wealth of information. This
study which began in the mid-eighties and concluded in the
early nineties documented a troubling trend in young women
with disabilities, a high rate of early unmarried pregnancy
which was associated with dropping out of school. Indeed the
early maternity rate for disabled young women was twice that
of non-disabled. I believe this brings up an array of
issues. How engaged are these young women in their
educational programs and how well are we meeting their
needs? Are family education programs accessible to young
women with disabilities? Are these young women being
sexually exploited, a frequently reported occurrence for
young people with disabilities? Are welfare reform efforts
adequately addressing the needs of women with disabilities?
>Fromthis data we must infer that many welfare recipients
are also disabled.

The other research that caught my attention was a portfolio
of studies conducted by The National Institutes of Health
(NIH) on learning disabilities. These large-scale studies
which examine students having the most difficulty learning
to read in the primary grades, identify an almost equal
number of boys and girls. This is a very significant finding
because marked difficulty learning to read is associated
with 80% of children identified as learning disabled. One
would therefor expect relative gender parity in
identification rates. This is not the case. Boys are
identified at a rate of over 4 to 1 to girls. This marked
rate of disparity has led many to hypothesize that LD is a
sex-linked disorder. This research flies in the face of
that interpretation. Why is the sex of child apparently more
determinate of whether the child is identified as LD than
her/his initial difficulty learning to read? Are girls with
LD not being identified and served? Are boys being
inappropriately identified as LD for reasons associated with

These studies highlight the importance of conducting more
research in this area. I look forward to discussing these
issues with you.

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