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Parenting with a Disability: A New Frontier of Disability Rights

June 17, 2016
Megan Kirshbaum, PhD, Founder and Executive Director, Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking Glass (TLG) is a nationally recognized center that has pioneered research, training, and services for parents with diverse disabilities and their families. Advancing the rights of parents with disabilities is included in the work of many programs within ACL, and TLG is one example.

As many prepare to celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, it is important to remember people with disabilities still often face profound familial, legal, medical and societal barriers to parenthood.

An estimated 4.1 million parents in the United States are parents with disabilities. Founded in 1982, TLG’s work has been about the transition to parenthood—a beautiful and profound experience—but also a stressful transition for most parents and couples with or without a disability. It is a transition that benefits from extra supports.

In the early years of TLG it was a common complaint of parents with disabilities that the transition was more difficult because of the lack of role models; fortunately this has changed, particularly with the help of communication through social media. Many parents can extrapolate from their expertise working around other barriers, and bring their problem-solving ingenuity to the new realm of parenthood.

For parents with vision or physical disabilities, including pain or fatigue, TLG has found over the past 25 years, that babycare adaptations and adaptive strategies can ease the transition to parenthood, preventing the tendency to over-stress the body and making babycare more enjoyable.

It’s important for parents to anticipate social barriers they may face in putting together supports. From the beginning of TLG we found that parents with disabilities who had the means to fund extra supports for parenting, such as babycare adaptations or personal assistance or accessible vans, had a smoother transition into parenthood than who were living in poverty. There is still a critical lack of publically funded resources for low-income parents with disabilities and their children; for instance, housing and transportation earmarked for people with disabilities doesn’t reflect attention to parenting needs; personal assistance services usually cannot be used for parenting; babycare adaptations are usually not funded. Providers with expertise regarding parents with disabilities are still scarce.

One of the most alarming barriers to parenting for people with disabilities is the heightened risk of having custody of a child challenged or removed based on bias regarding a parent’s disability status. This is a particular concern for poor parents who cannot secure private legal counsel, as well as parents with highly stigmatized disabilities such as intellectual or psychiatric disability. TLG’s legal program provides free technical assistance and advocacy to 100’s of families facing this issue year after year. Our expertise about these cases has informed our support of legislative, administrative and policy reforms across the country. We invite parents and systems to take advantage of our free assistance and resources, including legal guides and collections of case law.

From the years we supported families in the early years of the independent living movement, through the recent emergence of parenting as a national disability issue we have been honored to address obstacles to family life. It’s wonderful to see this generation’s determination to embrace the right to parenthood.

Resources for Parents with Disabilities

Last modified on 05/07/2020

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