It’s time to act: Quebec must prioritize the accessibility of child care services for mothers with disabilities
By Valérie Grand’Maison
This week, I celebrate the first birthday of my curious, ball-of-energy, sensitive daughter. The light of my life. I had been trying for two years before having a successful pregnancy, but for more than a decade, I had been thinking about the implications of raising a child with a disability, as a mother with a disability. I live with a visual impairment from a condition called Best disease, which is a form of macular degeneration, an autosomal dominant disorder. This means that there’s a 50% chance that my daughter will live with the same condition. Many people, especially physicians, explicitly questioned my decision to have a child that could live with my disability—and I had to advocate for myself and for my unborn child repeatedly before she was even conceived.
This advocacy continues to be necessary to access child care.
Navigating the child care system requires savviness for any new parent. Yet, the system assumes that parents don’t have needs. It assumes that they are able to travel and get around easily, have the time, energy, and ability to read and understand policies and processes (written in French), and that they can communicate with childcare professionals in French. This assumption leaves many parents behind: parents with disabilities, including parents who are neurodivergent, as well as parents who are immigrants or do not have the supports needed to take the time to understand the child care system. And once we receive a space in a childcare education centre, often times the space may not be accessible to a people with a wide range of disabilities or needs. In Montreal, for example, many childcare education centres are located in old buildings, with steps to get into the building, no elevators or ramps, limited space to navigate, and communication with educators is mostly informal – meaning that communication needs may not be accommodated.
I live in Québec and I feel very fortunate to have access to affordable day care. It supports my ability to work and relieves me of at least one financial stress in the midst of an affordability crisis.
As a mother with a disability, I feel forgotten in the child care system. We can—and must—do more in Québec to be fully inclusive of diverse families, especially of parents and children with disabilities. Indeed, in 2020, the Auditor General of Quebec declared that families who live in economic precarity and those with children with disabilities still face barriers to accessing the publicly-funded and regulated Centre de la petite enfance (CPE), and as a result they may not receive the same quality child care and may experience greater financial stress related to child care. Barriers to inclusive child care fuel other inequalities faced by these families, such as barriers to employment, low income, inadequate or unaffordable housing and food insecurity.
Québec is the leader in quality affordable child care in Canada and it is time that we become leaders in ensuring accessible child care for all. Parents with disabilities must be prioritized for access to CPEs, and all childcare education centres must be designed to respond to a wide range of accessibility needs.
Specifically, the child care registration system in Quebec, La place 0-5, should ask for parents’ needs and any disabilities, and prioritize access to parents with disabilities. For example, parents with mobility issues or visual impairments may find it more difficult to travel to a childcare education centre: they should prioritize parents with these needs when allocating places. In terms of communication needs: parents should be able to navigate the system and contact childcare education centres in LSQ (Québec Sign Language) with the support of an interpreter. Also, universal design should be mandated for childcare education centres. They need to be physically accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities to make sure that parents with disabilities can feel included and welcomed.
It’s time to centre accessibility in child care. This is how we do better in Québec for mothers with disabilities and their children, as well as diverse families. This is how our province can continue to be an example for the rest of Canada for supporting all families.
Valérie Grand'Maison is the Manager and Senior Research Associate at DAWN Canada. A researcher, activist and mother, she is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Guelph.