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Stigma of the Parental Rights of the Disabled

A young disabled woman, upon giving birth to her first child, was asked who would be caring for her child. She was dumbfounded by the question. And indeed, it was an inquiry made naively by a nurse who did not fully understand how offensive it was.

Let’s face it. The struggle to find a place in society for employment, housing, accessibility to public places and having legitimate voices in our society has helped establish acceptance in those areas to some extent. However, the stigma facing the disabled about love, marriage, intimacy and pregnancy is still one of the greatest barriers to equality.

Statistically, there are over 8 million families in the United States with at least one disabled parent. What, then, motivates the question about the ability for disabled parents to care for their own children?

In all fairness, healthcare workers are still not up to speed when it comes to caring for people with disabilities. There is still the idea that “disability” equates with “inability” and, while training in medical and nursing schools does cover many types of congenital impairments, the lifetime care of disabled persons is seldom studied in depth or from a human perspective.

Social services are lacking in full understanding about the serious considerations that disabled women undertake before planning pregnancy. And it seems that few understand the strong support that these women give each other to solve issues that non-disabled women face.

Unfortunately, the problem is further exacerbated by the fact that there are only a few states in the US that have passed custody laws protecting discrimination against parents based on their disabilities. Kansas, Utah, Louisiana, California and Missouri are among the handful of states that do not allow someone to lose parenting rights strictly based on disease or disability. The burden of proof lies on the person who raises the issue of disability as a reason for litigation.

In May 2012, a couple with cerebral palsy, living in Ontario, Canada won the right to keep their son at home. A children’s social services group had threatened to remove the child unless a non-disabled person was in the home 24 hours to care for him. Community groups helped fight the removal and support the couple’s right to care for their own child in their own way.

This was not the first, nor will it be the last, story involving this issue. There was another case in Chicago in 2010, when the father claimed that his quadriplegic ex-wife was incapable of caring for her son. She also won and retained her rights as a custodial parent.

If we are going to admit that the disabled are on the same page with anyone and everyone else and we want to guarantee their rights as human beings in society, we must also listen to and accept them as viable parents. There is no love like that between a parent and child. That truth definitely applies to those who are disabled and who make the conscious and circumspect decision to have children, just like the rest of us.




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