While there’s a severe lack of representation of parents with disabilities, people with disabilities are increasingly choosing to become parents. The National Council on Disability reports that nearly one in ten children have a parent with a disability. Women with physical disabilities also have similar rates of pregnancy to women without disabilities. “Our entire healthcare system, U.S. society and school system are geared towards those without disabilities,” explains Dr. Heather Tahler, Mental Health Services Lead at Maven. “This makes navigating systems created for able bodied people more challenging.” As a parent with disabilities, you’ve likely faced additional challenges when starting and raising your family. Read on for some practical tips for parenting with a disability.
Advocate for yourself
All people with disabilities face stigma and bias—but this may be exacerbated for parents with disabilities. If you have a physical disability, you may have experienced stereotyping, condescension, social avoidance, and discrimination. “A lot of work falls to the parent to educate the school, friends, and family members,” says Dr. Tahler. “The stress comes from all sides, which is part of what makes it so difficult.” But by using self-advocacy, which is an individual’s ability to effectively communicate and assert your needs and rights, you can make informed decisions and stand up for yourself and your family.
Here are some tips for self-advocacy, adapted from the Disability Resource Center at the University of California Santa Cruz:
- Know yourself: To feel confident in advocating for yourself or your family, it’s important to be self-aware. You should be prepared to clearly describe your disability to multiple audiences, from teachers at your child’s school, to potential childcare providers, to other parents and families.
- Understand your needs: Think about what accommodations have been helpful for you and what hasn’t worked as well. If you have the time and energy, try to brainstorm what you may need from a teacher, provider, or venue before events or activities.
- Read up on the laws that protect your rights: There are laws that protect your rights—and though it can be a mental burden, it’s important to know them. “I tell people to familiarize themselves with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because a lot of the things you may have to ask for are actually covered through there. It can be helpful to say, ‘You can’t deny me what I need here.’”
Access support, community, and information
People living with disabilities are an incredibly diverse group. The level of care and support needed differs from person to person depending on the situation and severity of their disability. That’s why it’s so important for each parent with a disability to have their own support and community they can depend on and that is right for their family. “Finding community is so helpful,” explains Dr. Tahler. “You feel less alone in advocating for yourself when you know about the tips and tricks other people are using.” You can find this support in-person at your child’s school, your work, or other community spaces, but there are also many resources online.
Here are a few resources that may be helpful:
- Disabled Parenting Project
- Parent-Centered Planning for Parents with Disabilities
- Parenting with a Disability: Know Your Rights Toolkit
- Through the Looking Glass
- Adopt US Resources for People with Disabilities
A lot of people use online communities to find peer support, like Facebook Groups. However, many parents with disabilities have difficulty finding information on childcare that discusses disability. There are rarely representations of disability in mainstream parenting books or TV or movies about parenting. This is a big obstacle and can feel isolating—but if you’re experiencing this, you can try to find community resources to know you’re not alone. “Have that space for yourself to process your feelings, and try to find support and problem solve,” suggests Dr. Tahler.
Communicate your needs at work
Try to be open about what your needs are, both as a parent and a person with a disability. You can work with your HR department to see what they can do to help. “Partner with your HR department to see what’s possible,” says Dr. Tahler. This could look like a more flexible schedule, a remote work option, or taking leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). “In this remote world, more and more is possible. This really helps all parents, but especially parents with disabilities who have kiddos,” explains Dr. Tahler.
Find providers that are knowledgeable about your needs and your child’s needs
It can be hard to find providers who are compassionate, empathetic, and competent about both your needs and your family’s needs. That’s why virtual care like Maven can be so important—Maven can fill in the gaps for parents with virtual providers like pediatricians, physicians, OB-GYNs, career coaches, and mental health specialists. With Maven, you can also get trusted referrals to in-person services that are personalized to your needs. Maven is committed to providing products and services that are accessible to the widest possible audience, regardless of ability.
Here are some of the ways Maven’s platform meets the needs of members with disabilities:
- To support our hearing impaired members, captions are available for live and pre-recorded videos. This is inclusive of live/on-demand classes and webinars. Additionally, American Sign Language is a supported language by our Care Advocates and Virtual Specialists.
- For our vision impaired members, our products are accessible via screen readers and they provide sufficient color contrast, content resizing, support for color blindness, and keyboard accessibility.
- For our members with motor control disabilities, our products support simple, single-touch gestures for navigation, keyboard navigation, and search fields.
- For those with cognitive disabilities, we ensure our content is simple and clear and provide specific messaging to help users avoid and correct input mistakes.
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