Disabled people discouraged from parenthood
Eugenics may no longer be legal, but informal practices to discourage people with disabilities from becoming parents exist, a University of Lethbridge researcher says.
Claudia Malacrida wants to explore the similarities and differences between Alberta’s eugenic period and the pressures the disabled face now.
Under the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act (1928-1972), some 2,800 people — most of them women — were involuntarily sterilized under the mistaken belief that problems like poverty and disability could be prevented through selective breeding.
Malacrida and her team want to interview women who were affected by the eugenics policy as well as younger women with a broad range of disabilities in the Red Deer area for her five-year project, Eugenics to Newgenics in Alberta: Historical continuities and differences.
Researchers want to talk to women with all types of disabilities, physical and intellectual, about their experiences, challenges and successes in achieving relationships, sexual rights and parenthood.
They also want to talk to family members and people who work with the disabled.
So far they have interviewed 30 people with a range of disabilities — developmental disabilities, mental health problems, fetal alcohol syndrome, paraplegia and deafness.
Malacrida said she’s heard a lot of commonalities in their stories. For example, whether they were considered appropriate for sexual education.
“Some women have talked about being put on birth control as soon as they started their periods. In informal kinds of ways, they’re sort of headed off at the pass,” Malacrida said.
Women have spoken about the lack of services available to them as mothers, something they see as a hidden message that disabled women should not be having children.
Malacrida sees similarities between the historical and current ways of responding to disability, sexuality and reproduction.
For example, during the eugenics period, the disabled were housed in institutions and segregated by sex, which were informal ways of ensuring eugenic outcomes. Today, the disabled can face similar restrictions on their access to relationships in group homes, or even in their own homes.
Malacrida said when it comes to social issues that can impact parenting, there’s got to be other solutions than “let’s just make sure you don’t have any children.”
She said groups like the Alberta Association for Community Living provide informal and formal support to people with developmental disabilities who have children.
“That can be in the form of mentoring families in the neighbourhood. It can be in the form of helping people to write their application for AISH and help them find part-time work to keep them out of the poverty trap.”
Malacrida said without the necessary support, many of the disabled with children just try to make do, which can compromise their own health or make it difficult for them to be great parents.
“Lots has been done in the U.K. and Australia. They’re pretty much light years ahead. In Canada, one of problems is that everything along those lines is mandated provincially so there isn’t a national research program that would look at these questions.”
The research project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, has received ethical approval through the University of Lethbridge, and all information will be treated anonymously and confidential.
To set up an interview in October or November in Red Deer, contact project co-ordinator Gillian Ayers at 403-332-4591 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.