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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding systemic barriers across the lifespan : a human rights inquiry into disability and mothering Smith, Jewelles Anne-Merrie


Disabled mothers face multiple barriers across the lifespan in accessing information and services related to reproductive and sexual health, and maternal care. Further, disabled mothers face over-surveillance and barriers when raising their children. Despite Canada being a signatory to the CRPD (2006) since 2010, and having legislation that asserts equality for all citizens, many policies, programs and services are inaccessible to women with disabilities. This dissertation takes a unique approach to understanding the experiences of disabled mothers across the lifespan. Combining retroactive qualitative life course history (Priestley, 2000) interviews combined with emancipatory (Barton, 2005) disability human rights monitoring methods (Disability Rights Promotion International, 2010). I ask, from a human rights perspective, what are the experiences of disabled mothers in Canada? How do these experiences impact their daily lives related to reproductive decisions, pregnancy/adoption, and raising children? And, how do women experience access to information about reproductive decisions and choices across the lifespan? Eighteen disabled mothers in two provinces (BC and ON) participated in this research. The data was organized into major life milestones. Five major findings were identified during the research. First, participants consistently faced barriers in accessing factual and accessible information to make informed choices. Second, many spaces that disabled women encounter related to having and raising a family continue to be inaccessible, or only partially accessible. Third, systemic ableism continues to exist both in reproductive, sexual health, and maternal care, and in the spaces where women raise and care for their children. Fourth, once women have a family, affordable, accessible housing and transportation are ongoing barriers. Fifth, many spaces for families, including schools, daycares, and recreational activities are inaccessible to parents with disabilities. Despite legislative rights, disabled women continue to experience barriers to accessing their right to raise a family.

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