I became a mom in the early days of the ADA, back when just the idea of disabled women becoming mothers was revolutionary. And it’s not that disabled mothers or disabled parents did not exist. Disabled parents have always existed, but have done so behind the scenes of other people’s lives because being fully in charge of our disabled bodies, even to this day, is something people with disabilities must fight for.
It was April of 1993 when my first son was born. He was born to a society that had finally begun to recognize the rights of millions of disabled Americans as valid human rights. At the time of my son’s birth, my inner activist was still feeling the fire from having passed the ADA, for having fought along with an army of disabled warriors in the now iconic ADAPT March of 1990 when we abandoned our wheelchairs, walkers and canes and crawled our way up the steps of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. demanding the passage of the ADA. The energy of those days of activism were still wide awake in my mind and in my being when I first became a mom.
The birth of the ADA, I think, gave birth to a new sense of independence, a new sense of identity as disabled people. The passage of the ADA made us all aware of what power looks like when we come together in the name of change. But it also reminded us that nothing really happens overnight. The promises of inclusion and accessibility that came with the ADA were more like baby steps, and, truly the birth of a new social consciousness – one that now, almost thirty years later is still learning to stretch itself into full awareness of our existence.
When answering the question of how the ADA has impacted my life as a disabled mother, the first thing that comes to mind is that without the ADA, those first moments with my newborn baby would have been a lot more doubtful. And I know all new mothers feel doubtful and nervous at first, but as a disabled mother, knowing that I had just been part of such major social change made me feel empowered to envision a future of hope and opportunity, a future of equality and inclusion.
Although as a disabled mother I did not get to enjoy many of the access benefits of the ADA when my boys were little, it warms my heart to witness things like accessible playgrounds, cross-disability friendly water parks and a whole new wave of disability products, events, and websites that actually focus on the specific needs of parents with disabilities. I see all that as a sign that we are no longer as invisible…and I say it that way because we can never forget that we are still struggling to set ourselves free from the claws of ableism.
Has a lot changed since I became a mom? I would say that many things have changed, and thanks to the ADA, new moms with disabilities now have more opportunities than ever before. Increased access always means increased empowerment, and increased empowerment is often reflected in how active and visible our lives are.
The truth is people with disabilities have always been able to be parents. The difference is that society now realizes it more than before. Let’s not forget, however, that the road is long and we must travel it together.
May your inner activist be wide awake, and may you be aware of your personal power.
Happy Birthday ADA!!!