Where there are
opportunities for
basic education
or training,
disabled boys,
not girls, usually
receive them.

Literacy can be viewed as a cross-disability issue; that is, it affects not one but all disability groups-physical, sensory, mental. Those who have been labeled mentally handicapped have been especially denied the opportunity to obtain an education. Peter Park of People First, a Canadian organization of people labeled mentally handicapped, explains the consequences of institutionalization: "Few members of People First know how to read or write. Many of us were not educated because we were institutionalized. Many of us are afraid to speak our minds or even organize for fear of being put back into an institution. We rely on tape for information but we need not only books on tape but also notes from meetings along with reports and other information" (7).

The problem of education for deaf people is coloured by cultural issues. As American Sign Language is recognized as an official language, deaf people prefer and advocate for education in separate deaf schools, just as francophone Canadians insist that French be the language of instruction for their children. Canadian deaf activists Carver and Doe write, "Education or access to education becomes possible at the earliest age and ends with death. ... For the deaf the experience of education is equally lifelong but it is also oppressive." The education of deaf people is oppressive because it is controlled primarily by upper class hearing men (8).

The problem of illiteracy affects the general population of every country, and the barriers that confront disabled women will need to be confronted by the public education system in every country as a matter of course, not as a special consideration or afterthought. A two-pronged approach is required: improved access in the generic education system and adult literacy programs that include the needs of disabled people. Like all disadvantaged groups, people with disabilities often require remedial measures to address past discrimination. Any remedial programming, such as adult literacy training, needs to recognize the concerns of women with disabilities, as these women are most likely to have experienced double discrimination. Adult literacy programs must not replicate current barriers found in education systems throughout the world: inaccessible architecture, discriminatory attitudes, or the medicalization of disability. Adult literacy programs should consult with organizations of disabled people for advice on how to best meet the learning needs of disabled people, include line items in their budgets to meet access needs of disabled students, and ensure that programs are located in areas serviced by parallel transportation.

Generic education systems all over the world must prioritize the needs of disabled students. When these needs are recognized and addressed, disabled children, particularly girls, will receive the same quality of education as the rest of the population, not a "watered down, handicapped version". The integrated approach, disabled persons argue, is perhaps the best way for disabled children to learn about how the rest of the world interacts and learns. Indeed, other children exposed to disabled peers will learn that they are the same as anyone else.

With educational opportunities and acceptance from one's peers, disabled girls will be in a better position to choose the kinds of careers they are capable of pursuing. "The abilities of disabled women are often under-estimated and channeled into vocational abilities like needlework, handicrafts, dress making, carpet weaving, etc." writes Zohra Rajah. "Very few foresee that women may have the potential to be good business people, lawyers, administrators, programmers" (9). With education, women with disabilities of the world can achieve their full potential and successfully contribute to our societies.

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