The word ‘empowerment’ has been popular for many years. In Effective Empowerment: Strategies for Accessible Education, I note that empowerment is “…based on the idea that giving people skills, resources, opportunities, and strategies will enable them to be accountable for their own actions, and will contribute to their independence, competence, and satisfaction.”
When it comes to disabled girls ages 8-12, the challenges they face in reaching empowerment are often the same issues that their non-disabled peers face. However, they also face their own specific hurdles.
Ongoing research has continually proven that young girls (and women) with disabilities are at greater risk for sexual violence, gender inequality, forced sterilizations and abortions, and exposure to HIV/AIDS. These risks were recognized in a speech delivered at the United Nations by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the 9th session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
As someone who has worked with teens and adults with disabilities for many years as a program coordinator at a major Canadian university, I too have witnessed these challenges. Our focus now should be on empowering and enabling young girls with strategies that will provide them with a strong base to live a positive and successful life on their own terms.
- Find a mentor: The opportunity to spend time with a mentor can be one of the most life-affirming and valuable experiences for a young girl. Mentors, in this context, would be women with disabilities who can speak to their personal experiences.
- Discuss the importance of education: Parents can empower their daughters by providing them with a wide opportunity for educational success early on in life. Explore your options to see where your daughter thrives—an inclusive school may be the right fit, but a special school or program may provide more specialized one-on-one care and a sense of community. When it comes to school and extra-curricular activities, let your daughter pursue what works best for her.
- Give the gift of confidence: All kids need to develop their confidence at an early age. This means spending time with your daughter and encouraging her in every way possible—it is especially important not to impose limitations—if they want to learn dance, sport, acting, singing, painting, or whatever their heart desires, find a way to make it happen. These experiences inspire confidence.
- Learn the language: Learn to speak with your daughter using positive language. The same goes for counsellors and teachers, positive language needs to be reinforced everywhere.
- Educate early on sex and sexuality: Young kids are learning very early today about sex and sexuality from television, movies and the Internet. All too often, young people with disabilities are left out of these discussions. They don’t see sexy women with disabilities on television; they see able-bodied women. While this must change, the strategies begin at home. Girls need to understand and be comfortable with their bodies. Sit down with your daughter and have open, honest and meaningful discussions about these key topics.
Empowerment is about attitude and persistence. Parents need to be open to creating an empowerment-oriented home and be advocates for their daughters so they can participate in everything they desire to experience. The more we limit young girls with disabilities, the more they will believe they should be limited. These are just a few of the strategies that could change the lives of girls with disabilities for the better.
Parents can empower themselves through education and networking with other parents in similar situations or support groups for the various disabilities their child may have.
Due to the immense financial burden parents with disabled children have it is imperative to learn about the availability of government credits and refunds, especially the disability tax credit.
If you are in Ontario, take a look at the special needs support programs.
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