Facing Discrimination As A Parent With Disability

Curated by
Whitney Bailey
Content via In The News
In The News
Curated by
Whitney Bailey

Parenting is hard work, especially when you feel like you are a part of a minority that is discriminated against. The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed 30 years ago, guarantees people with disabilities access to employment, government agencies, and places of public accommodations. However, violations of this act exist, especially for parents who have disabilities.

mother with down syndrome playing with baby in stroller

“Parenting is hard work. But for parents with disabilities, the challenges can feel insurmountable—not because of the parent’s disability itself, but because they are raising children in a society not built for them.”

In the original article, Rewire.News talks about discriminatory policies that discourage or deny the right of parenthood to people with disabilities. Still, people with disabilities are increasingly choosing to become parents. The article states, “Although prevalence estimates vary, recent research indicates there are between 2.9 million and 4.1 million disabled parents in the United States.”

Parents With Disabilities First Hand Experiences

Rewire.News interviews several parents with disabilities about the discrimination they face in today’s society.

Heather Watkins, a disability advocate with muscular dystrophy, recalls problems she encountered when she picked her daughter up from school when her daughter was in preschool. “The entrance (to the school) had a few stairs,” says Heather. “When enrolling her, they initially seemed manageable, but after a long day of work, I hadn’t quite factored how much of a chore they’d become.” She states, “I started calling ahead to sign her out and have someone bring her out to [the] car. Well, the looks and side-eyes I caught from non-disabled parents judging me a ‘lazy’ and ‘entitled’ were unbelievable.”

Holly Bonner, a mother who lost her eyesight, states one of the biggest issues she has encountered in regard to discrimination is dealing with the school system. “Communicating with teachers and administrators about my children is frustrating,” she says. Holly relies on her computer and other technology to read documents. She states, “Large class sizes make scanning or emailing parents individually less than desirable for educators, but without it, I do not know what is going on inside the classroom.” 

Holly has had to advocate for herself and her children to ensure that she is involved in her children’s education experience. “I lay everything out in black and white for the schools, but I make it absolutely clear if I don’t get what I need under the [ADA], I will absolutely take it to a higher authority. That has given me the label of a ‘problem’ parent. I am not looking to be a ‘problem,’ but I am looking to be included in my children’s school experience,” she says.

“Parenting is a journey, and disability adds another dimension. There is no instruction manual, and definitely no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.”

All of the mothers interviewed agree that dealing with other parent's perceptions of them can be equally frustrating. “Most (parents) don’t know how to address my presence in the schoolyard with their own kids, so they would rather ignore me altogether. Sadly, this often negatively impact[s] my children, who are left to answer questions about my disability to their peers,” says Holly.

“I am constantly trying to normalize our experience to abled people. They don’t understand that this is our everyday normal. I wish people could look at me and assume competence.”

“Abled-bodied people are always watching. I mean that for real—it’s not perceived. When we are out in the world, I feel like I’m on display. Sometimes people watch in awe, because they have no idea how I could possibly parent from a wheelchair. Sometimes they are complimentary. Sometimes they swoop in and try to help when help is not needed or wanted, and that is jarring and makes me feel less safe,” says Nicole a mother with cerebral palsy. 

The article concludes with great advice from Heather - “Parenting is a journey, and disability adds another dimension. There is no instruction manual, and definitely no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. You have to find a customized approach that works for your and your family, ensures your safety, productivity and peace of mind, and quality of life,” she says. “It may take some time and much effort, and that’s OK.”

How do you advocate for yourself and your children? Share your story with us at AbleThrive.com!

See more Stories About: 
ParentingParents with Disabilities