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5 Things Congress Can Do To Protect the Rights of Parents with Disabilities

Dr. Andrews at Briefing

Robyn Powell, JD (National Council on Disability – left) & Erin Andrews, PsyD, ABPP (APA Mbr – right)

By Erin Andrews, PsyD, ABPP (APA Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology)

My interest in parenting and disability goes beyond the professional. I am a rehabilitation psychologist, but I am also a disabled parent myself. In an earlier post, I described the experiences that parents like myself go through. Today, I intend to outline the five things our representatives in Congress can do to better protect the rights of parents with disabilities.

I was recently thrilled to represent APA at a congressional briefing on the groundbreaking National Council on Disability (NCD) report – Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children.

It is the first truly inclusive overview of reproductive and parenting rights among people with disabilities. The briefing was a joint effort between APA, NCD, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), and the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA).

During my testimony, I highlighted:

  1. the lack of meaningful research data about parents with disabilities,

  2. the importance of equal access to reproductive health care and adoption, and

  3. the need for disability cultural competence among health care providers.

I also put forward APA’s 5 policy recommendations for what Congress can do to better protect the rights of parents with disabilities:

1. Increase federal funding for research on parents with disabilities, to include the collection of data on prevalence, experiences, needs, and barriers faced by these families.

2. Include specific protections for parents with disabilities in the Adoption and Safe Families Act, to provide for reasonable accommodations because there is evidence that:

  1. Parents with disabilities experience unfair challenges during the adoptive process

  2. Prejudicial practices are commonly used in the termination of parental rights cases involving parents with disabilities (Fife, 2011; Lightfoot, Hill, & LaLiberte, 2010).

Congress should amend the Adoption and Safe Families Act so that these practices are specifically forbidden and that the appropriate agencies are directed to enforce the law.

3. Require that parenting assessments be fully accessible to parents with disabilities, and that custody evaluators receive training on conducting assessments on parents with disabilities and their children.

4. Promote the education and understanding of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Amendment Act as they relate to the legal requirement of non-discrimination and require culturally competent training for health care providers on the assessment and treatment of people with disabilities.

  1. In a recent study, 22% of respondents indicated that they couldn’t accommodate a patient in a wheelchair. Gynecologists were least likely to accommodate a patient in a wheelchair (Lagu et al., 2013).

5. Advocate for the United States to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  APA supports the ratification of this UN treaty as a means to protect the rights of disabled persons and to set an example for the international community on this critical human rights issue.

Each and every presenter expressed the message that parents with disabilities have rights and that those rights are, and can be, consistent with the best interests of their children. In order for that to occur fully, state, local, and national government policy changes must be made.

We hope Washington heard, and I know many were listening.

I’m proud to have represented psychology and APA, and proud to have had my voice as a disabled mother heard.

I’m proud to have spoken up on behalf of the at least 4.1 million parents with reported disabilities in the United States.

Most of all, I’m proud to have been a voice for my son, Gavin, and the at least 6.1 million children in the United States who have parents with disabilities.

What can you do to support parents with disabilities?

For professionals: APA has wonderful, well-researched practice guidelines for working with people with disabilities and performing child custody evaluations – use them!

For concerned citizens: Encourage your representatives in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to support APA’s policy recommendations on this important issue. For example, the CRPD is expected to come before the Senate again this year. We need knowledgeable people to help dispel myths that this treaty harms families, when in fact it promotes the rights of families, many of whom have one or more disabled member.


Fife, B. E. (2011). A study of the quality of psychological assessments of parents with disabilities involved in termination of parental rights cases. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 71(10-B), 6485.

Lagu, T., Hannon, N. S., Rothberg, M. B., Wells, A. S., Green, K. L., Windom, M. O., et al. (2013). Access to subspecialty care for patients with mobility impairment: A survey. Annals of Internal Medicine, 158(6), 441-446. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-158-6-201303190-00003

Lightfoot, E., Hill, K., & LaLiberte, T. (2010). The inclusion of disability as a condition for termination of parental rights. Child Abuse & Neglect, 34(12), 927-934. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2010.07.001

National Council on Disability (2012). Rocking the cradle: Ensuring the rights of parents with disabilities and their children. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from:

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