A recent article in the Miami Herald brought up some questions. If you are a disabled parent, do you receive the same respect and support as parents without a disability, and if not, how prevalent is the inequality?
The story was about a mother who suffered a back injury that created a significant amount of pain, preventing her from working and leading her doctor to recommend narcotic pain pills. Because of her dependence on the medication, the court ordered her to complete a variety of parenting tasks which she failed due to a lack of financial resources. Her child was then taken away and given to the grandparents.
This situation had a few variables involved that have no relation to a disability, but it inspired us to do some research. It turns out that there are quite a few Internet and print resources that are aimed specifically at the disabled parent. Some are for women only and others offer support to both sexes. After reading just a handful of sources, it became apparent that there are indeed issues faced by disabled parents that need attention.
“Many doctors may have difficulty dealing with women who are both pregnant and disabled. We blur their categories,” says says the DisAbled Woman’s Network (DAWN), “Physicians lack models for dealing with us. Many have a hard time saying, “I don’t know how to deal with this, but I’ll try to find out as much as I can and help you as best I can.” Rather than deal with us honestly, they may urge us to abort, or be unsympathetic.”
Added to negative physician attitudes about disabled parenting are complications that arise from pregnancy that are specific to each disability. Spinal cord injuries (SCI) are already prone to cause urinary tract infections (UTI) and with the addition of a pregnancy and the strain it places on the bladder, the potential significantly increases.
DAWN also points out that there are also issues with medical equipment not being safe or properly designed for gynecology exams on those who are wheelchair dependent or who have little or no use of their limbs. In a poll that resulted in 245 respondents, DAWN found that the disabled mothers who had children experienced the following problems: 25% had housing issues, 25% had difficulty transporting their children, 33% had trouble with child care, 32% had a problem with household tasks and 33% found that social/medical workers didn’t understand their situation.
The Family-Friendly-Fun Website has something similar to say, “For too long, people with disabilities had been told that having families of our own was not an option. The truth is, though, that we have always been parents, and as our society evolves, more and more of us will have access to that opportunity.” They go on to add that “Being disabled parents in the twenty-first century is slowly starting to improve but unfortunately disabled parents are still sometimes met with discriminatory attitudes both by professional organizations, and by the family and friends of the disabled parents themselves.”
Adaptive equipment is out there, but it’s rare and considering how individual-specific each situation is, coming up with a “one size fits all” option for those with disabilities is out of the question. Certain things need to be taken into account that the typical stores seldom provide – accessible changing stations and bathing equipment, cribs and beds, harnesses to allow quadriplegics to hold their child and so on.
Luckily there are organizations that are working to not only support parents with disabilities, but also to draw attention the the unique challenges they face and how our communities can better assist them. Here are some resources to get you started:
Parents with Disabilities Online (Includes some adaptive equipment.)
Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood (Has an online or print journal with stories of disabled parents and how they are coping.)
Disability in Pregnancy and Childbirth (A book that is highly recommended on a variety of Websites.)