Uncut Curbs and Other Obstacles: Mothers with Disabilities
by Heather Furminger-Delisle
The Health and Limitation Survey reports that the number of people reporting a disability is on the increase. Although the population of Canada has since grown, according to the 1991 Canadian Census there were 4.1 million adults living in Canada with disabilities, 2.3 million of whom were of working age (16-64), and women were more likely than men to have a disability.1
People with disabilities have been stigmatized in the past as incapable and burdensome. The current disability movement has been striving to not only overcome the stereotypical role of helpless, but to invigorate the realistic image in which people with disabilities are identified as independent individuals with hearts, minds and voices. Barriers faced by people with disabilities are not only physical, as in access to buildings, but attitudinal. Attitudinal barriers create other barriers which prevent accommodation from happening and in turn set up a blockade to independence.
There are limitless testimonies of people with disabilities being underestimated on their personal, social and academic abilities.2 Requests for assistance are often overcompensated with an attitude that the person with the disability is absolutely incapable of accomplishing anything. However, people with disabilities, especially women, are most often willing to gain knowledge through personal research not only about the physical and health aspects of their disability, but also their own personal abilities and limitations. Mothers with physical limitations, for example, have sized up their living accommodations, baby's room and kitchen long before pregnancy, possibly more carefully than non-disabled moms.3
Access to buildings is not a new problem for people with disabilities. However, access goes beyond a ramp to the front door. Pat Israel, speaking to a group of women with disabilities, once commented that even though a woman using a wheelchair might get into her doctor's office, it is another story if she is able to access a table for a pelvic examination, a basic health concern for all women.4 To accommodate mothers with disabilities, accessible parking, curb cuts, wide doorways and proper lighting are only a few considerations. The wish list can be endless or simply sensible. Not only are some mothers with disabilities hindered by uncut curbs, there are countless numbers of moms with strollers and small children who would also benefit from these accommodations. Whether it is health care facilities, social service agencies or educational institutions, physical access is a benefit to all participants in society.