Joyce Joseph, a woman from Trinidad and Tobago disabled by polio during childhood, received little schooling. Her father built a small go-cart to pull her to school but her formal schooling ended when she outgrew the cart - at age eight. She then received some lessons from a tutor, but the tutor moved away. Why couldn't Joyce just use a wheelchair, crutches, or ride the bus to school? Because a wheelchair or crutches were not available to her, her family did not have a car, and the bus seldom traveled into the area where she lived. These were her barriers to education.*
Korisha Mohammed, also from Trinidad and also disabled by polio at four years of age, received little education. Even though her disability is not severe - she wears a leg brace - her family decided to house her in an institution after she became disabled. She lived there until she was thirteen, and received an elementary schooling during this time. When she was released from the institution she was unable to continue her education because no transportation was available to the school and her parents could not afford a private tutor. Yet, Korisha has endeavoured to complete her education. She is currently studying for her "A" levels (university entrance) in English literature, and she is working as a stenographer in one of the government ministries. Korisha says that because she was in a "special" school she was not able to interact with nondisabled children. As a result, she says, "I feel socially handicapped as an adult still."
Eileen Giron, a DPI World Council member from EI Salvador, explains that in Latin American countries families do not view education for disabled women as a priority. They continue to be very protective and do not allow women with disabilities, especially blind women, to go outside the home unaccompanied. Physical inaccessibility of the schools compounds the problem. Giron reports that the Catholic University in San Salvador is inaccessible and its administration is unreceptive to suggestions to retrofit the campus.
While more developed countries have government subsidized public education systems and a higher overall literacy rate for women, they are not immune to erecting barriers for those who are disabled. There is still a tendency in the school system to believe that disabled children do not really need an education since they will work in sheltered workshops or stay at home. Indeed, in the late 1960s those were the options. Judy Heumann, a disabled American activist, was the first student from her classroom to enter high school. Eventually she became a teacher.
Obviously, attitudes are a large barrier to the education of disabled girls. In developing countries, many are kept at home to help with household chores and rarely leave their yards to appear in public. Often, especially in developing countries, families are ashamed of their disabled children; the community views disablement as punishment for some sin the family has committed. As Fatima Shah, a founder of the disabled people's movement in Pakistan, laments, "So the blind girls leads a vegetable existence with nothing to look forward to except a dependent life as a burden on the charity of parents or relatives" (5).
Where there are opportunities for basic education or training, disabled boys, not girls, usually receive them. Society tends to view disabled women as less important to educate, and it maintains that they should be passive recipients of care, usually from other women. A mobility impaired activist from Mauritius and Deputy Chairperson of DPI, Zohra Rajah remarks, "In many societies it is difficult to convince people that able-bodied women need to be educated; for disabled women it is worse. Due to traditional role perceptions, disabled women are given less encouragement to continue with education" (6).
* Joyce has since learned dress-making skills from her sister and has started her own business.