site is no longer active.
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?
- Where is the best place for Ruth to live?
- With whom should she live?
- What types of activities will Ruth participate in?
- What types of services will Ruth need?
- How does the fact that Ruth is female influence her needs?
- 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
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.