Allies and Obstacles

Disability Activism and Parents of Children with Disabilities

Allison C. Carey, Pamela Block, and Richard K. Scotch
Book Cover

PB: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1633-9
Publication: Jun 20

HC: $109.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1632-2
Publication: Jun 20

Ebook: $34.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1634-6
Publication: Jun 20

348 pages
6 x 9
2 tables

Addresses the nature and history of activism by parents of people with disabilities, and its complex relationship to activism by disabled leaders

Read a blog entry by the authors

Read an excerpt of Chapter 8 (pdf.)


August 6, 2020: Join authors Allison C. Carey, Pamela Block, and Richard K. Scotch and the Michigan ADA in celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Register for this lecture here.


Parents of children with disabilities often situate their activism as a means of improving the world for their child. However, some disabled activists perceive parental activism as working against the independence and dignity of people with disabilities. This thorny relationship is at the heart of the groundbreaking Allies and Obstacles.

The authors chronicle parents’ path-breaking advocacy in arenas such as the right to education and to liberty via deinstitutionalization as well as how they engaged in legal and political advocacy. Allies and Obstacles provides a macro analysis of parent activism using a social movement perspective to reveal and analyze the complex—and often tense—relationship of parents to disability rights organizations and activism.

The authors look at organizational and individual narratives using four case studies that focus on intellectual disability, psychiatric diagnoses, autism, and a broad range of physical disabilities including cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. These cases explore the specific ways in which activism developed among parents and people with disabilities, as well as the points of alliance and the key points of contestation. Ultimately, Allies and Obstacles develops new insights into disability activism, policy, and the family.


"Allies and Obstacles is a highly recommended addition to the disability studies literature. The authors bring an impressive depth of knowledge and insight to this compelling and readable book. They weave together how advocacy movements of parents of children with disabilities formed and connected—and at times disconnected—with the disability rights movement. Setting these advocacy efforts within the wider context of American society, public policy, and social activism, this book further explores how these disability advocacy efforts have helped determine what life is like for people with disabilities in the United States today.”—Professor Nora Ellen Groce, Director of the International Disability Research Centre, University College London

“Allies and Obstacles is an important, timely, and balanced analysis of the persistent tensions that have long existed between parents and self-advocates in the disability rights movement. The authors provide an insightful historical analysis of parental activism and then build on that foundation with an exploration of how individual family members come to participate in advocacy activities. The case studies are impressive, and the combination of archival research and qualitative interviews allows a personal perspective to ground the theoretical concepts. Parents, family members, disabled adults, and anyone with an interest in disability rights and advocacy should find this book of interest.”—Philip Ferguson, Emeritus Professor of Education at Chapman University

" The authors give historical background on the evolution of disability activism and the difficulties that parents and children face. Organizations like the Arc and the National Alliance on Mental Illness are discussed along with the effects of life transitions, timing, and public policy. Understanding how to navigate the system when a child is disabled is a challenge for all involved, and this study gives context to the conversation. VERDICT An extensively researched resource that provides a look into the world of disability advocacy. This scholarly book is ideal for academic libraries, though public libraries should also consider this for health collections."
— Library Journal

Table of Contents


Part I Disability Activist Communities
1. Intellectual Disability and Parent Activism
2. Psychiatric Diagnosis, Disability, and Parent Activism
3. Autistic Identity and Parent Activism
4. Physical Disabilities and Parent Activism

Part II Cross-Disability Analysis
5. Timing: Factors Affecting the Emergence of Parent-Led Organizations
6. Frames and Positions within the Field of Disability Activism
7. Social Movement Strategies and Public Policy
8. Narratives of Rights
9. Parents, Children, and Advocacy across Life Transitions

Appendix: A Note on Methods

About the Author(s)

Allison C. Carey is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Shippensburg University. She is the author of On the Margins of Citizenship: Intellectual Disability and Civil Rights in Twentieth-Century America (Temple) and coeditor of Disability Incarcerated: Disability and Imprisonment in the United States and Canada and Disability and Community.

Pamela Block is a Professor of Anthropology at Western University. She is coeditor of Occupying Disability: Critical Approaches to Community, Justice, and Decolonizing Disability.

Richard K. Scotch is Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at the University of Texas, Dallas. He is the author of From Good Will to Civil Rights: Transforming Federal Disability Policy (Temple), coauthor of Disability Protests: Contentious Politics, 1970–1999, and coeditor of Disability and Community.