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NOTE: The following activity is adapted from Gender Matters: Training for Educators Working with Students with Disabilities, which was written to enable one or more facilitators to conduct inservice training on gender equity for professional and paraprofessionals who work with students with disabilities. To receive a publication annoucement call 800-225-3088 or TTY 800-354-6798. Code #2814

Planning for Ruth
Ruth is an adult woman with a disability. To help with future planning for Ruth, you have been asked to make some guesses about her life and needs, based on the limited information provided below in her history.

Ruth’s History: Ruth was born with cerebral palsy. She has significant muscle spasms affecting her arms and legs and seizures that are only partially controlled by medication. Ruth has difficulty breathing, eating, and swallowing. She either uses a wheelchair or lies in bed. She does not speak, although she does make sounds. She cannot feed, bathe, or dress herself independently. Ruth’s level of intellectual ability is not known, since she cannot take typical intelligence tests. She has had little formal schooling. She lives in an institution for people with mental retardation.

Planning for Ruth’s Future: Based on this information, what are your suggestions about where and how Ruth will live in the future and what programs and services she will require?

  1. Where is the best place for Ruth to live?
  2. With whom should she live?
  3. What types of activities will Ruth participate in?
  4. What types of services will Ruth need?
  5. How does the fact that Ruth is female influence her needs?
  6. Would you change any of your recommendations if she were male?

Ruth’s Plan for Her Future
The following are Ruth’s responses to the same questions.

The description of "Ruth" came from a book by a woman named Ruth Sienkowicz-Mercer titled I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes. Ruth was a young girl with cerebral palsy when her family was forced by circumstances to have her live in the Belchertown State School in Massachusetts. Here is how she responded to each question, based on how she currently lives her life:

Where is the best place for Ruth to live?
Wherever she chooses. Ruth currently lives independently in her own home in Northampton, Mass. She moved from Belchertown in 1978 on her own initiative, despite resistance from staff, after living there for 16 years. Since she left the institution, she has lived in two different apartments. In 1989 she was the keynote speaker at the closure of Belchertown.

With Whom should Ruth live?
Her husband, Norman. After securing her freedom, Ruth married a longtime friend. They live together and enjoy occasional, but not too frequent, visits from their in-laws.

What types of activities will Ruth participate in?
Ruth is a writer, consultant, and nationally recognized speaker. She spends much of her time on the road, speaking to large groups. She now uses the "Liberator," and augmentative communication device using synthesized speech, to communicate. When she’s not traveling, she is working on another book. On Saturdays she does her grocery shopping and laundry. She says Sunday is her day of rest.

What types of services will Ruth need?
Most of all, Ruth needs people to support and listen to her, and to whom she can show support and caring in return. These people are called her friends. She needs assistance provided by a personal care attendant hired by Ruth and Norman. She needs a little luck to win the lottery. She needs more money than SSI provides. She needs phone and utility services. She needs the State of Massachusetts to fix the potholes from the winter storms. She needs the same services all of us need.

How do expectations based on Ruth’s description influence how professionals in the field might respond to circumstances. Expectations and biases may limit people as much or more than a disability. Would any of your responses have been different if Ruth had been a male? Would it have been any easier for you to imagine an independent life for a "Robert" rather than a "Ruth"? If your answer is that you would have the same plans and expectations for a man and a woman, consider whether you would have different concerns based on gender with regard to such issues as physical or sexual vulnerability, the capacity to live independently in a private apartment or house rather than communally, the capacity to bear and raise children, and so forth. Many people have more limited expectations for girls and women with disabilities, compared to boys and men with disabilities, and may have greater difficulty envisioning an independent life for them. Because teachers, counselors, and other professionals working with young people with disabilities are such powerful influences, it is crucial to become aware of and challenge such limiting expectations.



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