Disabilities and Families

Which one of these people would you consider disabled?

A disability can come in several different forms including physical, mental and intellectual or sensory impairment. While some people have a visible disability and need to use a wheelchair or cane, many others have an invisible disability including chronic illness or mental health issues. Some disabilities are temporary or come and go, while other disabilities are permanent. No matter how disabilities are defined, they all have a common result and that is the disabled are are treated as different and unequal by society.

When a family has a child with a disability, it can be very stressful. Not only does it effect the family income but also the employment status of the parents. Mothers are more likely to take on the responsibility of providing care for the child, thus they are more likely to stay at home or work part-time. Children with disabilities are more likely than those without disabilities, to live in poverty and not have the basic nutritious foods or access to heath care. One major cause is that these families must contend with special diets, special clothing, medications, equipment, etc that other families without the disabilities do not have to worry about. Employers are not required to accommodate their employees for the caring of their disabled child, so many caregivers have to leave the workforce in order to do so and receive little support from the government.[1]  Children with disabilities are also more at risk of violence and abuse compared to those without disabilities. They are vulnerable because they may not be able to defend themselves or report the abuse to others. They are also at a greater risk of being neglected because they may not have the support or knowledge to change it.

When a family has one of their parents with a disability, it can be very stressful for the child. Many women who have a disability are discriminated from having a child in the first place or are pressured to give the child up for adoption. If the woman chooses to keep her child, she may lack prenatal care and education because she is disabled. She is also more likely to be a single parent and lack family support. When a male is disabled, he is more likely than a female to receive support especially if he is a single father. Whether the parent is single or in a family, they are still oppressed and lack the needed support.

There are numerous ways to increase the support of families with disabilities and some of these include adequate housing, child care, transportation, respite care, increased social assistance and education.  Many families struggle when a family member has a disability and they do not need the increased pressure from society to adhere to what they describe as “normal”. A disability should not be a barrier that is systemically based and with more support and education from society, one day there will be no inequality in an already unequal situation!

– Tina Baird

[1] Cheal, David. 2010. Canadians Families Today: New Perspectives. Ontario: Oxford University Press.

For more information and resources on disabilities:

Enns, Ruth. 1999. A Voice Unheard: The Latimer Case and People with Disabilities. Halifax: Fernwood

Fawcett, Barbara. 2000. Feminist Perspectives on Disability. Harlow, UK: Prentice-Hall.

Roeher Institute. 2000. Count Us In: A Demographic Overview of Childhood and Disability. North York, Ont: Roeher Institute




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