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How Philanthropy Can Support Disabled Parents

by Robin Wilson-Beattie

Having spent almost 17 years as a parent who has chronic, physical, and mental health disabilities, I’ve learned quite a bit about the issues and challenges of parenting in a world designed for able-bodied people. It’s taught me the importance of having support, resources. and community.

My experience as a parent began in 2004 (with an impending new release due November 2021!). I have a spinal cord injury, so paralysis impedes my physical access in spaces. Chronic issues include pain and mental illness of anxiety, depression and PTSD from past trauma and abuse. Neurologically, ADHD is a disability that affects my interactions and responses with others. All of these disabilities have presented different challenges for me to access the support needed for me to rear my child.

In addition to my disability, as a Black person, my race was also a social barrier that negatively affected the quality of support available to me. My identity meant dealing with social attitudes towards black women’s fertility, sexuality, and parenting skills. Often critical and damaging, these biases against Black women result in outcomes of impacted esteem and mental health, and lead to physical illness and death, due to lack of attention and care to their pre- and postpartum care.

Absolutely no one on this Earth survives alone in the world. Every creature on this planet exists due to interdependence. This means that in many ways our lives depend on the forces, materials, and actions of others outside of ourselves. Society has moral obligations to ensure and uphold that children have safe and healthy surroundings for them to grow into adulthood. When communities are inclusive, people of all abilities are able to access resources and support needed to function and live.

When it comes to parenting, community interdependence takes many different forms. It can include local parenting classes and groups, educational settings, nutritional support, and health and safety programs. But what is too often missing in the set-up and idea of all of those programs is addressing and supporting the needs of disabled parents in communities.

I became physically disabled during my pregnancy, and finding resources and support that were inclusive and cognizant of disability provided countless challenges. It was more than just discouraging–it was damaging. My mental health was impacted, as society continued to demonstrate and uphold the ableist idea that disabled people do not, or should not, reproduce and have children.

How can philanthropy help combat this ableist idea? By assisting in the application of real-world support. There are so many ways foundations can help disabled parents in their mission to safely bring up their children in the community. Adaptive equipment used to rear children is expensive! Accessible cribs, baby slings, and wheelchair-adapted carriers are a few examples of the things disabled parents use to take care of their children. Scholarships can provide funds for disabled parents to send their child to pre-schools, get caregiver assistance like a babysitter or childcare, or enable participation in fee-based parent and child activities and programs in their communities. Foundations can finance ventures that provide physical spaces that are inclusive, accessible, and allow for disabled parents and their children to foster real world connections. And they can partner with healthcare and civic organizations by providing financial support to make existing parental programs inclusive and disability accessible, and to create new ones to serve the population.

There is hope and promise in some programs that have arisen out of the need to address this inequity, and support disabled parents in accessing information, connection, assistance, education, and advice. For instance, the Disabled Parenting Project was created as part of the National Research Center for Parents with Disabilities. An online space, it is one of the few resources that exist solely for disabled parenting, created by and for disabled people. Peer-supportive, informational, and socially active, this organization hopes that their efforts can be used to create policy, education, and research that assists in addressing the disparities that exist due to discrimination. We need to fund more ventures like this one.

Disability has taught me that with adaptations and help from others, my right as a human to live a free life of my choosing is possible. We all make it when we support each other, and parenthood is one aspect of humanity where disabled people need and deserve assistance to ensure the best outcomes for our future.

Robin Wilson-Beattie is a speaker, writer, and advocate for disability and sexuality as well as one of the first people to talk about disability, sexuality, and marketing to adult product retailers and manufacturers. She combines years of personal experience with medically sound research to provide a unique perspective on how life and identity impacts one’s sexual expression. Her speaking engagements include multiple keynotes and panels, including three consecutive years speaking at the Adult Video News convention in Las Vegas. Her work has not only helped tens of thousands of disabled people, but also inspired many others to become advocates for sexuality and disability education, an incredibly underserved area. Robin is a member of the Association of American Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), the Women of Color Sexual Health Network (WOCSHN), and a graduate and member of the San Francisco Sexuality Information Training (SFSI). Committed to writing her memoir in 2021, she looks forward to sharing her wild journey of Blackness, acquiring a disability via rare illness while pregnant, motherhood, sexuality, and her experiences searching for answers. Robin is a deep-fried Southern woman, mid-century buff, and proud Mama.