Many of the participants in this project described the ways that passive newgenics worked to prevent them from having a family:

  • Lack of access, information or support for relationships – so that although many of our respondents wanted ‘someday’ to have children, they had little idea how to make that happen
  • Misleading information about disability and genetics – some people were told that if they would have children they would ‘naturally’ have children with disabilities – even when this would not be the case [1, 2]
  • Other forms of newgenics included overprotection, lack of freedom, isolation and lack of access to other young people, and infantilism, where disabled people are treated as lacking ‘adult’ emotions and desires
  • Enforced or pressured use of birth control, sometimes ‘just in case’ the individual might become sexual [3, 4] – which can leave disabled people vulnerable to undetected abuse [5]
  • Public attitudes and stigmatization that result in disabled people not being part of the public arena and not being seen as legitimate partners or parents

Disabled couple can keep sonDespite these barriers, many disabled people can and do become partners and parents. For some of these parents, however, there were many ways that they were prevented from keeping their families:


  • Poverty is one of the biggest difficulties faced by disabled parents. Disabled people – particularly those with intellectual, mental health or pervasive physical disabilities – are likely to be underemployed or even unemployed [6].
  • Unlike Social Assistance (welfare), disability income rarely includes support for family members – there is a built-in
    assumption that disabled people will not be parents [7, 8].
  • Disabled people often need to stay on disability income because it includes health care payments specific to their disability, which are not included in Social Assistance
  • Woman with Cane Walking up StairsPoverty forces families to live in poor housing in poor neighbourhoods. Providing adequate nutrition, clothing, and recreational opportunities can be challenging. It’s easy for parents living in poverty to seem as though they are neglectful
  • Canadian disability policy often ignores parenting. In Alberta, parents receiving in-home personal support cannot use those services for their children. So, a physically disabled woman requiring help to dress, bathe and feed herself cannot ask her worker to put a bowl of cereal on the table for her children [9].
  • Surveillance is a problem. Support workers in the home can place disabled parents under the lens of social services, putting their families at risk [10].
  • As a result of these factors, many disabled parents decide to struggle alone rather than seek help because they fear being seen as inadequate by workers [10].
  • Finally, when parents do run into difficulties, they are treated poorly by the Child Welfare and Family Court Systems, especially when the parent is identified with intellectual or mental health challenges [11-13]

The research shows that challenges facing disabled parents are deepest when the parent has a mental health diagnosis or is intellectually disabled. Interestingly, these are the qualities that put disabled people most at risk during the eugenic period as well.


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  2. Gerodetti, N., “Disabling” Femininities and Eugenics: Sexuality, Disability and Citizenship in Modern Switzerland. 2003, University of Lausanne: Lausanne, Switzerland. p. 1-10.
  3. Aunos, M. and M.A. Feldman, Attitudes towards Sexuality, Sterilization and Parenting Rights of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 2002. 15: p. 285-296.
  4. Carlson, G., M. Taylor, and J. Wilson, Sterilisation, Drugs Which Suppress Sexual Drive, And Young Men Who Have Intellectual Disability. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, 2000. 25(2): p. 91-102.
  5. Hollomotz, A., Learning Difficulties and Sexual Vulnerability: A Social Approach. 2011, London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.
  6. Wild, T., Life on AISH: Payments put Alberta’s disabled below poverty line, in FFWD. 2004: Calgary. p. 6.
  7. Malacrida, C., Understanding Income Support Policy in Canada and the United Kingdom: Women’s Narratives and Critical Discourse Analysis. Disability & Society, 2010. 25(6): p. 673-686.
  8. Malacrida, C., Mothers with Disabilities: Implications for Theory and Practice, in The Routledge Handbook of Disability Studies, N. Watson, C. Thomas, and A. Roulstone, Editors. 2012, Routledge: New York and London. p. 390-401.
  9. Malacrida, C., Negotiating the Dependency/Nurturance Tightrope: Dilemmas of Disabled Motherhood. Canadian Review of Sociology, 2007. 144(4): p. 469-493.
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  11. Mosoff, J., ‘A Jury Dressed in Medical White and Judicial Black’: Mothers with Mental Health Histories in Child Welfare and Custody, in Challenging the Public Private Divide: Feminism, Law and Public Policy, S.B. Boyd, Editor. 1997, University of Toronto Press: Toronto, Ontario. p. 227-252.
  12. Llewellyn, G., D. McConnell, and L. Ferronato, Prevalence and outcomes for parents with disabilities and their children in an Australian court sample. Child Abuse & Neglect, 2003. 27: p. 235-251.
  13. Booth, T., W. Booth, and D. McConnell, The Prevalence and Outcomes of Care Proceedings Involving Parents with Learning Difficulties in the Family Courts. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 2005. 18: p. 7-17.