Overcoming Disability to Parent with Pride

June 6, 2012


“The first time my 14-year-old son saw me using a cane for the blind he went completely pale with shock. That’s when I knew I needed to confront my disability and to find a way to help him deal with it too,” says Ella, 40, a working mom whose sight has been degenerating steadily for the past seven years. “Being a parent and a spouse with a visual disability presents a lot of challenges. I needed help overcoming mine.”

While many parents may commiserate about the hardships of raising young children, most can happily take for granted many of their daily abilities. But for some parents with disabilities, lifting a baby out of a crib, helping a child with homework, or making their teenager feel comfortable with their limitations can be an insurmountable challenge.

In Israel, there are approximately 336,000 parents with disabilities—including physical, sensory, mental, and cognitive disabilities as well as chronic diseases—raising young children.  But with the exception of a few, small, local initiatives, there have historically been no services to help them with their unique issues—until now.

Israel Unlimited—a strategic partnership among JDC, the Ruderman Family Foundation, and the Government of Israel that aims to meet the needs of Israel’s 700,000 adults with disabilities (17.9% of the population)—has developed a special new program tailored for parents with disabilities.

Facilitated by an occupational therapist and an educational counselor, the group includes parents with a wide range of sensory, physical, and mental disabilities; it is the first of it’s kind in Israel. “I learn a great deal from my peers because everyone shares their unique angle and offers perspective and helpful tools,” says Ella, who has been attending the course for the past three months.

While Ella’s sight was degenerating, her self-confidence declined too. She felt deeply embarrassed, depressed, and alone. Joining the group helped her build her self-esteem and empowered her to address her situation with her family.

“The program gave me the strength to confront my disability, to ask my son, ‘how do you feel about my cane and my limitations?’ for the first time. Today my son isn’t ashamed of me anymore. When his friends come over I can’t see their faces but I can talk with them without making him uncomfortable.”

In addition to dealing with all the daily challenges of raising children, parents with disabilities face additional hardships including lack of support from extended families, isolation, and societal disapproval; difficulty communicating with their children; and lack of physical access to children’s daily lives and activities.

Oren, 37, is a father to one-year-old Michal and knows these issues all too well. Both Oren and his wife have cerebral palsy, so when their daughter was born, his in-laws became deeply involved—and family tensions arose quickly. Oren has a Masters in Economics and works at a medical logistics services company, but convincing his in-laws that he could parent independently has been difficult nonetheless. He came to the course to enrich his parenting know-how and to learn how to address his challenges with the extended family.

“I got the tools I needed to look at my situation in a new way and to find ways to emphasize my abilities rather than my disability,” shares Oren. I learned how to communicate with my wife and in-laws more clearly, to reduce disputes, and conflict in my family. I am grateful to JDC for this course.”

Israel Unlimited is forming three more groups similar this year, including a special course for parents with cognitive disabilities. “Our society needs to know that people with disabilities are like everyone else,” says Oren. “Despite our physical limitations we have other abilities, and discovering that will not only improve our lives, but also strengthen Israeli society.”

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