Love is in the Air – Media Profiles People with Disabilities in Marriage and Parenting

Washington, DC – As we approach Valentine’s Day, today two major media outlets released heartwarming profiles of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) achieving their dreams – falling in love, getting married, and being a parent.

Today, the Washington Post released a lengthy profile of Bill Ott and Shelley Belgard, a couple from Maryland who were married in September after a long courtship.  Bill and Shelley met as teenagers, dated, and re-connected later in life.  Bill has Down syndrome and Shelley has hydrocephalus.  But no disability could keep them apart, and today, Bill and Shelley are married, living independently with supports, working in the community, and enjoying their lives together.

“Bill’s and Shelley’s path to marriage is not unlike many others who fall in love, lose touch as life takes its turns, and reconnect later in life when the time is right.  They have a love that is as true as anyone else’s, and with support from family and the community, they are living their dream.  The reality is not everyone has access to all the support and resources that Shelley and Bill have had, but when people with disabilities are given the tools they need to succeed, look at what is possible – a life like yours and mine,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

NPR also ran an interview this morning with Bonnie and Myra Brown, a mother and daughter from Lansdowne, Pennsylvania.  Bonnie is a single mother raising 15 year old Myra, and Bonnie has an intellectual disability.  Myra is grateful for her mother’s love and guidance, and the interview with them is so moving that the radio host is heard choking up.

“Raising a child is a wonderful experience that comes with challenges for any parent.  Bonnie and Myra’s touching story is proof that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can be successful parents when provided proper supports, and they should have the same right to parent as others do,” said Berns.

Unfortunately, there is a dark history of discrimination toward individuals with I/DD in our nation and around the world.  This includes the denial of rights and opportunities to have relationships, get married and have their own children.  Earlier this year, The National Council on Disability released a very telling report on the rights of parents who have disabilities.  Four million parents—6 percent of American mothers and fathers—have a disability.  The rate at which children are taken from parents who have intellectual and developmental disabilities is between 40% and 80%.  This report uncovers the heartbreaking reality for too many families across the country – parents with disabilities are treated unjustly when it comes to their rights as parents, and far too many families are broken apart by outdated and discriminatory practices.