Parenting and Family Life Issue


While research is showing that children of disabled parents are often more compassionate, understanding, accepting, and responsible, until their parents are afforded the protections and security nondisabled parents have, we will continue to see many of these beautiful families broken up or otherwise excluded from greater society.

As people with disabilities have enjoyed more freedom since the passage of legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) the visibility of parents with disabilities has also increased. Having a disability is no longer always viewed as a barrier to having a family. However, many policy and attitudinal obstacles can make parenting with a disability a difficult, heartbreaking, and solitary experience. It is hard to find information on how many parents in the United States actually have disabilities. However, Through the Looking Glass, a national advocacy center located in Berkeley, CA has estimated that there are at least 4.1 million (6.2%) parents in the United States that have some form of disability. These parents are often isolated and excluded from inclusion by non-disabled parents and parenting communities.

From the time a child is conceived by a disabled parent, that parent faces a slew of barriers other parents without disabilities do not face. Lack of access to an ob/gyn and pre-natal care that is both accommodating and has accessible facilities can be difficult to find, and many disabled parents have been discouraged from having children by medical professionals, simply because they have disabilities. In addition, when pregnant disabled mothers deliver their children, they are all too often prevented from taking these children home, simply because the health care personnel assume, with absolutely no objective evidence, they cannot care for a child based on their disability. 

The insult to disabled parents can be further compounded by CPS (Children's Protective Services) workers who make inaccurate assumptions about disabled parents’ abilities to parent. Unfortunately, if these families seek out assistance, CPS fails to accommodate either of the parent’s disabilities if they have them, when connecting them with services, which can end up harming the entire family in the process. While the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) encourages protections for the home and family of disabled people around the world, few countries offer any type of support for these parents or families. This is why parents with disabilities continue to be ignored in research on parenting and inclusion in social policy that revolves around protecting disabled families. 

Disabled parents lack access to the same kinds of resources that non-disabled parents have. This is why projects like the Disabled Parenting Project (DPP), and Disabled Parents Rights (DPR) have been developed. The DPP team leader and co-researcher is Robyn Powell, who was the lead author of the National Council on Disability’s Report, Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and their Children. DPR was founded by Carrie Ann Lucas who specialized in legal representation of disabled parents. These projects offer peer support for anyone with a disability who has children, or who may be planning to have children in the future. They also fill a much needed gap by providing information on parenting, access to tips and tech to make parenting more accessible, and allowing disabled parents to find positive parenting role models while connecting with other disabled parents around the world, all of which are missing from most parenting communities on the Internet.

Additionally, parents with disabilities face an increasing amount of stigma, and discrimination, as well as a lack of representation in both media and greater society, and the potential to lose custody simply because of a disability. While research has shown there is absolutely no proof that having a disability is a predicator for how well an individual can parent, disabled parents have consistently faced challenges to their legitimacy as parents. The law has little protection to help parents with disabilities who are facing such legal battles. For the most part, these parents are left to deal with the repercussions of losing their children and fighting to get them back, on their own. Barriers to adoption also exist for people with disabilities, with some adoption agencies unwilling to even consider placing a child with a disabled parent or allowing a disabled parent to adopt their partner’s children, even if they are helping to raise them.