Nearly 26 years ago, on July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, proclaiming “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down!” In passing the ADA, with the purpose of lessening stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities, Congress avowed “the Nation’s proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals.” Surely the ADA was intended to safeguard the rights of parents with disabilities. Indeed, during Congressional hearings leading up to the ADA’s passage, advocates testified about child welfare agencies removing children from parents with disabilities.
Because of the ADA, we enjoy increased opportunities to further our education, live in our community, and secure employment. To that end, many of us expect the opportunity to marry and become parents, if we so choose. Nevertheless, people with disabilities continue to be denied one of our most fundamental rights as Americans – the right to raise a family.
The discrimination parents with disabilities experience is truly beyond appalling. Just look at these shocking facts described in the National Council on Disability’s Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children:
- Parents with intellectual or psychiatric disabilities face removal of their children by child welfare and loss of parental rights at rates as high as 80%
- Parents with disabilities are more likely to be denied visitation or custody during divorce proceedings – resulting in many staying in bad –and at times, dangerous– marriages
- Prospective parents with disabilities are often precluded from becoming foster or adoptive parents due to bias and speculation about their disability
- Disabled women often receive inappropriate and inaccessible reproductive health care, particularly if they need assisted reproductive technologies
Unequivocally, we, the disability community, must do more to fight this injustice. Indeed, if something as fundamental as the right to raise children is not guaranteed for people with disabilities, significant cross-disability advocacy is certainly needed.
As the 26th anniversary of the ADA approaches, let’s commit ourselves to righting this wrong! Remember, until people with disabilities are able to enjoy their fundamental right to raise families, the promise of the ADA will not be truly achieved.
In the words of Justin Dart, Jr., “Lead on!”
 See President George Bush’s Remarks on Signing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 2 Pub. Papers 1067, 1070 (1991).
 42 U.S.C. §12101(a)(7) (amended 2008).
 National Council on Disability, Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children (2012) [hereinafter Rocking the Cradle], available at http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/Sep272012.