Becoming a parent is one of the most challenging but rewarding things a person can experience within their lifetime. For people with disabilities, those challenges may differ from other parents. This is especially true of the infant and toddler years when your children are solely dependent on you for almost everything. However, the rewards are no less satisfying and the experience is unique and deeply embracing.
Here are some practical tips for preparing your life and home for parenthood.
Seek out a supportive social circle
You have surely heard it takes a village to raise a child. That is no less true for parents with disabilities. Remember that the vast majority of challenges that lie ahead of you are universal to all parents -- how to figure out what is bothering your fussy baby, how to convince a toddler that eating vegetables does not require a meltdown, how to punish a child in an age-appropriate manner, etc. All new parents should seek out like-minded groups to bond with other adults. If you are concerned about whether the group will be accommodating for your disability, reach out ahead of time to gauge their understanding and support.
Some larger cities and communities may have groups specifically for parents with disabilities. You may be able to find them through community centers, libraries or social service agencies. If there isn’t a physical group near you, find solace online through parenting or disability specific boards. These spaces can help you get situationally advice that can help you work out any logistical challenges.
Make modifications (or buy modified products)
As someone living with a disability, you are already accustomed to modifying things for your specific situation. Bringing home a baby or child will simply require more of the same thoughtful processing and adjustment. For example, if you are visually impaired and use textured tape or braille labels in your kitchen pantry, use the same system for prepping your
One researcher found that night care, bathing and carrying an infant were the biggest challenges reported by mothers who have significant physical disabilities. So as you prepare your home for the baby’s arrival, pay the most attention to those tasks. If mobility is an issue and you already have grab bars in your tub or showers, consider whether you will need additional ones for maneuvering the baby’s bath time. Alternatively, you may be better off using a sink you already have access to, or creating a washing station with a specific baby tub on a nonslip mat or sturdy table.
Many manufacturers offer products modified for disabilities, including car seats with a swivel base that provide an easier load-in experience for people in wheelchairs and strollers that attach to wheelchairs. If those fall short of expectations, seek do-it-yourself options.
Technology is advancing quickly and providing tools that new parents can use. Not only are standard baby products being modified for easier access, there are now a myriad of assistive technology devices out there. These can be used to help parents with disabilities as well as children who have disabilities and are being raised by typical parents. For example, for the hearing impaired there are now wearable bracelets connected to alarm systems that can be programmed to light up or vibrate when your baby is crying.
People with disabilities will face different physical and emotional challenges than those of able-bodied parents, but nothing is insurmountable with the proper modifications and preparation. At the end of the day, the most important element of any happy home is compassion and love, which each and every one of us is capable of providing.