Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Exceptional Parents: Parents with Disabilities:

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Exceptional Parents: Parents with Disabilities:

Article excerpt

"Did you know that in the United States more than 8 million families include at least one parent (who) has a disability? Millions more exist worldwide, and (the) numbers are steadily increasing." (1) The perception of being parents with disabilities in the Twenty-first Century is slowly starting to improve, but unfortunately parents with disabilities are still sometimes met with discriminatory attitudes, both by professional organizations and by the family and friends. (2) There are the "spiritually uplifting" media stories of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have suffered physical and/or emotional losses and, yet, surmount horrendous difficulties to bring a new born life into their family. The long term realities may be very different as men and women with developmental and acquired disabilities enter into marriage and then follow the extended challenging path of parenthood.


Parenting as a role for people with disabilities used to be controlled through the practice of sterilization, abortion and ignorance. (2) The classic example, which remains in the historic memory of the U.S. Supreme Court, was the endorsement of negative eugenics--the attempt to improve the human race by eliminating "defectives" from the gene pool. The affect of the Buck v. Bell 1927 ruling which legitimized eugenic sterilization laws in the United States was "immortalized" in the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, who wrote for the 8-1 decision opinion, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." (3) Within less than fifteen years of that ruling, Nazi Germany similarly justified its mass killing of individuals with disabilities as the attempt to improve the human race by eliminating "defectives."

Political activism in the 1970s and 1980s ushered in change in the social perception of disabilities, which in turn culminated in Michael Oliver's monumental work, "The Politics of Disablement." He emphasized that disability and dependency are caused by an oppressive society where people with disabilities are not the victims of a medical condition or accident, but as the collective victims of a discriminatory society. (4) The 1995 Americans with Disabilities Act brought the social oppression of people with disabilities into the forefront through the outlawing of discriminatory treatment of people with disabilities in employment, in public spaces and in the provision of services.


A cursory review of the Internet with the Google search engine, using the phrase "parents with disabilities," resulted in 2.3 million sites in less than a second. Many of the scores of sites that were reviewed referred to working relationships between the parents and their children. A search with the phrase "benefits for children with parents with disabilities" produced 13.3 million sites in an even shorter period of time. A similar review of numbers of these sites noted the repeated reference to the availability of government funds in particular circumstances (e.g. from Social Security and the Supplemental Security Income programs) to assist in the support of youngsters in these family settings. "About 4.4 million children receive approximately $2.4 billion each month because one or both of their patients are disabled, retired or deceased." (5)

Having a disability does not keep a man or woman from being a capable, loving parent. Mothers with disabilities face the same challenges of raising children as all parents. …

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