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Justice Friday returns to SMC

| Sunday, November 2, 2014

Saint Mary’s associate professor of communicative disorders Susan Latham spoke about “Parenting with Disability” Friday afternoon as part of the Justice Education Department’s weekly Justice Friday series.

Latham said parents with disability have the right to raise their own children without interference.

“When we look at the evolution of parenting in the disability community, we know that these individuals have the desire to become parents regardless of cultural and political boundaries,” she said. “This is a desire many people have.”

Many people with disabilities face legal, personal and medical resistance to their dream of being a parent, Latham said, resistance encouraged by the disability stigma.

“What happens is people base the ability [to parent] on the disability rather than the behavior itself,” she said.

Latham addressed the disability stigma through a video about Miles Forma, a young man with cerebral palsy. Doctors, parents and tutors held different perspectives on Forma’s ability to function with disability, but Latham said the one perspective that mattered was Forma’s, who gave a speech at his Bar Mitzvah against all odds.

“How would you feel if people thought things like ‘You’ll never do much of anything’ or that maybe you don’t have the same life plan as someone else because you have a physical disability, based on the stigma around disability?” Latham said. “We have to step back and think about whose desires are these versus our perceptions. [Forma] wants us to understand that he has the same dreams.”

The Earl family achieved a similar dream, Latham said, the dream to marry and have a family despite disability. The couple met in an assisted living home, married and eventually had a daughter in East Lansing, Michigan, where Latham said they later faced legal challenges in raising their daughter.

“There was a quiet effort to take the child away … based on only the premise that they were two individuals with disabilities,” she said.

After fighting a legal battle, Latham said the Earls were able to keep their daughter.

Although numerous technologies are available for parents like the Earls to raise their children, Latham said programs are necessary to train parents with disability to use these technologies.

“Fairness is not everyone getting the same thing,” she said. “Fairness is everyone getting what he or she needs.”

The 20th-century eugenics movement, during which more than 65,000 Americans were involuntarily sterilized for reasons including mental retardation and disabilities, highlights the significance of the issue, Latham said.

“Even today, 24 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, several states still have some form of involuntary sterilization laws on their book,” she said. “Women with disabilities today still contend with corrosive tactics to encourage sterilization, to encourage them to have abortions because they are deemed unfit for motherhood, not based on their capacity to parent but based on their having a disability.

“Despite this harrowing history, many people with disabilities still choose to become parents.”

In her experience working with parents with disability, Latham said she sees numerous examples of success. For many children, having a parent with a disability teaches them to respect those who are different and look past the disabilities of classmates, she said.

Parents with disabilities face challenges in social acceptance, education and income, Latham said. These are the arenas that need to become more adaptive in order to assist parents in achieving their goals, she said.

“When we think about the dignity of human beings and what people’s desires are, rather than saying you can’t achieve these desires, we need to ask ‘How can we help you achieve them?’” Latham said.

The next Justice Friday lecture will take place Nov. 7 at 12 p.m.

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About Kathryn Marshall

Kathryn Marshall, Saint Mary's College '17, is a Biology and Humanistic Studies double major. Follow Kathryn on Twitter @kmarshallSMC

Contact Kathryn