Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Real Lives of Girls with Disabilities

Looking over Linda's posts over the last week or two, I am struck by what feels to me to be a common thread in three different stories. The first story was the suicide of Emily Chapman, age 20, who had a psychiatric disability. The second was Patricia Bauer's write up of witnessing her 24 year old daughter with Down Syndrome being called "retard." The third was the story of the LA area twins with a developmental disability, age 16, who ran away from home and ended up allegedly being picked up and raped by a 23 year old man.

The question that kept popping up in my mind was this: what is it really like to be a young woman with a disability? What expectations does society have of young women, and in what ways do our lovely, diverse, unique, complicated young sisters with disabilities "fail" to meet those expectations? Why does society fail to support and appreciate all the experiences that young women with disabilities have to offer? Why do our young sisters have to suffer so much pain?

I think that the average person fails to fully appreciate the reality of young women with disabilities. I think there is a lack of appreciation for the pain our sisters feel, and a lack of common human decency. When I see efforts made to appreciate and support our young sisters, I wish I didn't have to think of a lot of those efforts as unique and one-time-only.

At Access Living, where I work, we have a fantastic program for girls with disabilities called the Empowered Fe Fes. This group not only provides peer support and information, but helps the girls build skills and take actions and make decisions on things that are important to them. Every girl with a disability deserves an opportunity like that. See

I think it is critical that young women with disabilities not only be affirmed as people, and people with disabilities, and as human beings, but also as females, as sisters. But when I see news stories such as the ones I mention above, I am reminded of how hard we have to fight for that affirmation. We truly do have to fight all kinds of systems and perceptions that inherently judge and discriminate against girls with disabilities.

I think this is a struggle that needs to be about people working together. The Fe Fes are an example of a positive effort in this struggle. FRIDA is also a positive example. Truly, to take up this cause, we have got to ask ourselves, and the media, and society as a whole, what can we do to work together to affirm our young sisters with disabilities? And then we have to take ACTION.

Have you supported and affirmed a young woman with a disability today?