Re: Opening Statement-Harilyn Rousso

Date: Wed Oct 20 1999 - 10:06:00 EDT

Susan Smith asked the following:

"You said that there are 26 million women and girls with disabilities. How
 is "disability" defined? What is the number of boys and men
 included in that category? What percentage of the school
 population is this? Is this population growing?"

The 26 million figure is taken from Census data from 1991-92. The figure may
have increased since then. The figure for men and boys with disabilities at
that time was 23 million. The Census definition has itself been in evolution
in an effort to be more comprehensive and inclusive. While I am not sure of
the definition used in 1991-2, the current definition culls data from several
questions that address limitations in functional activities, such as seeing,
hearing, speaking, lifting, carrying; activities of daily living, such as
bathing, dressing, eating; and instrumental activities of daily living, such
as keeping track of money and bills, preparing meals, doing light
housekeeping; as well as other factors. Other surveys, such as the National
Health Interview Survey, and federal legislation, such as the ADA, use other
definitions. The diversity of definitions in use, which, among other things,
means that someone could be labeled as disabled under one definition and not
under another, underlines the fact that disability is a social construct,
grounded at much in society as biology.

The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the US
Department of Education, in its Final Long Range Plan for Fiscal Years
1999-2004 (Federal Register August 20, 1999) notes that although there are
many varied definitions of disability out there, most reflect the medical
model of disability, focusing on deficits in the individual rather than
barriers in society - architectural, transportation, communication and
attitudinal barriers - that limit the ability of people with disabilities to
function as fully as possible. The NIDRR Report suggests a paradigm shift in
definitions so that they focus on the whole person functioning in the
environmental context. This definition will assess a person's ability to
function, participate and contribute based not only on real physical
limitations but also the accessibility of her/his environment. This is an
interesting discussion worth reading.

Regarding students with disabilities, during the 1996-97 school year,
5,235,952 students ages 6 to 21 with disabilities were served under IDEA,
according to the US Department of Education; about one third were girls. More
than 90% of these students were classified in one of four categories:
learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, mental retardation and
emotional disturbance. The number of students with disabilities has been
increasing over time, with the largest increases in the category of "other
health impairments," partly due to increased identification of students with
Attention Deficit Disorders.

A good source of information on students with disabilities is "To Assure the
Free Appropriate Public Education of All Children with Disabilities. The
Twentieth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals
with Disabilities Act," written and published by the US Department of
Education in 1998. For the first time I am aware of, this report, published
annually, includes a chapter on gender issues. It gives a good overview of
some of the gender bias issues in school.

Harilyn Rousso
Disabilities Unlimited

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Jan 04 2000 - 12:33:29 EST