By Erin Andrews, PsyD, ABPP (APA Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology)
What does Mother’s Day mean to you? For me, it means enjoying the company of my beautiful son, Gavin, and loving and supportive fiancé, Todd. It also means having my rights as a mother protected.
I am a rehabilitation psychologist and I care deeply about the rights of parents with disabilities. Why? Because I am a disabled parent myself.
Every day, I work with clients with disabilities – many of whom are parents or hope to become parents. Some of my clients acquired disabilities as parents already, and face systemic barriers to full enjoyment of this part of life.
Many of my colleagues are totally unaware of the discrimination and environmental obstructions to:
reproductive health care for women with disabilities,
adoption by parents with disabilities,
access to assisted reproductive technology, and
gaining or retaining custody as a disabled parent.
Health care providers, including psychologists, do not always receive adequate training to provide culturally-competent care to those with disabilities.
As a mother with a disability, I hold the same concerns as other disabled parents. Finding a wheelchair accessible daycare for my son, Gavin, was difficult even in a moderately sized city. Facilities that are accessible still have barriers such as heavy doors and blockades meant to keep children safe, but that ironically also block my access.
Even more disruptive are intrusive comments and stereotypes that reveal prejudices about my abilities as a parent.
Others in my community routinely express surprise that I am Gavin’s mother, and if I am with an able-bodied female, others often assume he is her child.
Recently, a family member assumed that my disability prevented me from effectively catching my son from falling down, even though an able bodied caretaker who was closer to him was also unable to prevent the fall.
Does this sound fair to you?
These issues are minor compared to the pervasive discrimination seen in the legal arena, where disabled parents are denied custody of their children based on the presence of disability alone, without reference to actual parenting ability, or the provision of reasonable accommodations to facilitate effective parenting.
Recently, a married developmentally disabled couple had to go to court simply to be able to live together.
Another set of parents had their newborn baby removed from their care for almost two months because they were blind.
The concept of appropriate support or assistance in order to keep children with their parents is rarely addressed.
Personally and professionally, my peers do not always believe that this happens. Those who know me know I’m a good mother, but my greatest fear is being challenged in court for custody of my son; I worry that a woman with only one limb would never stand a chance.
For these reasons, I was thrilled to advocate on behalf of APA at a recent congressional briefing on the rights of parents with disabilities. In tomorrow’s blog post, I will recap my experiences and outline the 5 things Congress can do to better protect the rights of parents like myself.