Passports to Adulthood, Strong Families and Good Mothers: A Critical Examination of Developmental Disability Discourse in Ontario Between 2008-2014
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This study investigates ways in which motherhood and family are implicated in contemporary policy and practice relating to adults diagnosed with developmental disabilities in Ontario, Canada. In Ontario, recent policy changes emphasize the importance of supporting families and stress inclusion, choice and independence as desirable and attainable outcomes for disabled adults. At the same time, Ontario’s provincially regulated developmental services system has been charged by families, journalists and government officials as failing to adequately provide for adults with developmental disabilities and their families, many of whom are said to be in crisis. Conducted from a feminist and disability studies informed, post-structuralist perspective, the current research explores how meanings associated with disability, family and motherhood make contemporary disability related policies and practices possible. More specifically, the current research was undertaken to describe developmental disability discourse in Ontario between 2008-2014, especially as it engages with conceptualizations of motherhood and family. Results from a discourse analysis of policy documents, interviews with eight mothers of adults diagnosed with developmental disabilities and Legislative Assembly of Ontario Select Committee on Developmental Services transcripts indicate that the disabled adult subject embodies discursive flows, tensions and contradictions. Belonging to a category of fixed, medicalized difference from a norm, the disabled adult subject is envisioned as legitimately unable to enact the demands of successful neoliberal citizenship; while simultaneously envisioned as deserving recognition as a unique adult human who should exercise choice and individual potential to approximate normative adulthood and successful neoliberal citizenship. This tension-laden discourse is made possible by and perpetuates gendered ideals and practices of parenting and a related familialization of care, thereby extending and expanding intensive mothering practices and expectations. At the same time, developmental disability discourse also makes it possible for mothers to draw boundaries around their mothering roles and make demands of the province.