Bonnie Brown is a single mother with an intellectual disability. Myra is her 15-year-old daughter, a gifted-and-talented student who aspires to attend the University of Cambridge when she graduates. Both were featured on StoryCorps to talk about their lives and their love for one another. During the piece—in which they interview each other—both mother and daughter discuss the challenges and stigma they face as a family living with disability.
“I want you to know that even though our situation is unique, I’m happy that I am in it because I am happy that I am with you,” Myra says near the end of the dialogue.
“Thank you, Myra,” replies her mom. “I feel the same way. And I won’t never change it for anything in this world.”
According to the National Council on Disability, nearly 1 in 10 children have at least one parent with a disability. Despite landmark civil rights legislations like that of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, these parents often face opposition in their right to care for their children. NCD’s report “Rocking the Cradle” finds that 80 percent of parents with psychiatric or intellectual disabilities have their parental rights challenged or stripped away.
There have been documented instances all over the country of parents being discriminated against simply because they have a disability. Whether these incidents are the result of bias and stereotype or maltreatment and neglect is for the courts and scholars to determine.
Through the Looking Glass (TLG) has been advocating for parental rights for people with disabilities for more than 30 years. Their NIDRR-funded National Center for Parents with Disabilities and Their Families conducts research, training, and advocacy services for these families across the United States. Advocates like the National Center support parents with disabilities and work to educate the public on their capabilities. As part of their research and support programs, they conduct an annual scholarship competition for families like the Browns, who have students planning to attend college, technical or vocational school or may already be enrolled in college. Students are invited to submit essays on their experience as a child with a parent with disabilities. Fifteen winners will be awarded $1,000 toward a certificate, license, or degree program. Five of the fifteen scholarships will also consider extreme financial difficulties in addendum to the standard requirements. The competition closes March 15th.
Every family faces challenges. Myra and her mother face them together, with love and the support of community services, independent living centers, and organizations like TLG. Despite the uninformed social prejudices they face, parents with disabilities still have the right to be parents and Myra proves they can make great ones.