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January 31, 2022

Disability Rights

Daily Struggles 

Q: Why do people with disabilities go through a lot of struggle and need a lot? Mah’kye from Washington, D.C.

A: People with disabilities come in all shapes and sizes. Some need a lot of assistance with managing activities of daily life while others need no more assistance than people without disabilities.  But sometimes the reason people with disabilities struggle is not because of their disabilities but because of society’s reactions to them or its failure to think about them.  For example, if a person uses a wheelchair and lives in a city where there are no curb cuts on the sidewalks, that person might be unable to use the sidewalk to go places. But if there were curb cuts, the person could come to the end of the sidewalk, go down the curb cut to cross the street, and go up the curb cut to get to the other side. The curb cuts have not allowed the person in a wheelchair to walk, but they have allowed that person to be mobile on our city streets.

Govt Planning for a Future Health Crisis

Q: The pandemic has severely comprised the quality of life for disabled people. Legally what can be done to ensure that disability issues and the community are front and center in government planning for the next public health crisis? Keyshawna from Washington, D.C.

A: We are, of course, still dealing with the current pandemic and its effect on people with disabilities.  People with certain disabilities may be particularly at risk of getting the virus, and, if infected, of experiencing severe symptoms and even death.  In other cases, the vulnerability of people with disabilities to the virus makes it critical that those with whom they come into contact be vaccinated and masked.  In still other cases, there are concerns that decisions about who gets access to limited medical services, such as access to ventilators, improperly take into account the supposedly lower quality of life of people with disabilities. The next public health crisis may or may not implicate these specific issues but it could well affect people with disabilities more significantly than people without disabilities.  This could happen in at least one of two ways: people with disabilities could be especially vulnerable to the crisis or the crisis could cause people to develop disabilities. The key is that we have to recognize that people with disabilities are members of our society and any steps we take to deal with a public health emergency must take that fact into account.  We should be especially vigilant in challenging any assumptions in dealing with a public health emergency that devalue people with disabilities or ignore their concerns.

Parents with Disabilities and Child Custody

Q: Can parents with disabilities lose custody of their children? Jennifer from Washington, D.C.

A: It is certainly possible (and it has happened), but when it happens it is often because other people or agencies do not recognize the strengths and capacities that parents with disabilities possess.  Some parents with disabilities need reasonable modifications to programs to be able to function adequately as parents. When they do, the law—the Americans with Disabilities Act—requires that they receive them.  Other parents with disabilities do not need any reasonable modifications to function as parents. Unfortunately, in too many cases, what limits parents with disabilities and jeopardizes retaining custody of their children, are not the parents’ disabilities but the “myths, fears, and stereotypes” that others believe.