Spinal cord injury no bar to parenthood

But resources are few, mother’s study finds

Anita Kaiser always wanted to be a mother. That dream didn’t change following the 1996 car crash that left her paralyzed from the chest down.

Kaiser, 36, gave birth to daughter Olivia five months ago. And yesterday, her groundbreaking study into the needs of parents with spinal cord injuries was presented at a Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists conference in Whitehorse, attended by 300 professionals from Canada and abroad.

“I want to break down the barriers and stereotypes,” Kaiser said in an interview at her Richmond Hill home.

About 36,000 Canadians live with spinal cord injuries with 100 new cases each year. “There’s no reason people with disabilities can’t be just as great parents as the able-bodied, as long as we have the resources and services available to support us in the parenting role.”

Her study, presented to the conference by a colleague, arose out of her master of science degree in Rehabilitation science at University of Toronto.

It looked at the experiences of 12 mothers and fathers with spinal cord injuries, including social attitudes they encountered, division of labour between spouses and physical challenges of caring for a child.

“Having children seems to magnify a Disability,” said Kaiser, who received a scholarship for her studies from the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. Without suitable information, contact with other parents facing the same challenges and devices to help, “you are compromised in many ways.”

Among her recommendations:Developing childcare products with universal design for use by able-bodied or disabled parents. One example, a highchair that can be adjusted to several heights.

Forming a peer network for parents and those who want to become parents to connect with others and learn from their experiences.

Producing a resource guide about strategies and products, and providing more information to agencies and health care providers who serve disabled clients.

Dr. Geoff Fernie, vice-president of research at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, said there is “almost nothing” in the way of research to assist parents with spinal cord injuries.

Kaiser’s dual role as a consumer and researcher means she links “research and reality” to come up with practical solutions, he said.

Read a profile of the woman behind the research Tuesday in the Living section.

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