Women with disabilities still facing barriers as they seek relationships, motherhood

Eugenic sterilization is no longer legal in Alberta, but some people with disabilities continue to experience barriers when it comes to having children, says University of Lethbridge sociology researcher Dr. Claudia Malacrida.

Dr. Claudia Malacrida has been studying the history of the Michener Centre for the past 15 years.

Malacrida and her team of researchers are in the midst of a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) that stems from her ongoing interest in questions about disability, reproductive rights and eugenics. Valued at $318,278, the five-year study is entitled, Disability, Sexuality, Relationships and Family: An Exploratory Study.

“Fifteen years ago, while researching the history of Michener Centre in Red Deer, I began collecting life histories from people who were sterilized under the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act,” says Malacrida, in advance of International Day of People with Disabilities on Tuesday, Dec. 3. “I learned that the largest group of people involuntarily sterilized were women with disabilities, many of them residents of Michener Centre.”

Malacrida’s research group is seeking to interview two groups of women about their experiences. First, they seek women who were affected by Alberta’s eugenics era (1928 through 1972), who are primarily aged 50 to 70. They also wish to speak with younger disabled Albertan women about their hopes, experiences, challenges and successes in achieving relationships, sexual rights and, where desired, motherhood.

Red Deer's Michener Centre housed many women who were involuntarily sterilized during Alberta's eugenics era.

“In our interviews, young women with intellectual disabilities have described being placed on long-term birth control at extremely early ages, sometimes without their full consent or knowledge about side effects,” says Malacrida. “Women with physical disabilities have spoken about the lack of services available to them as mothers, something they see as a hidden message that disabled women should not be having children.”

The stories they collect will be played against policy and discourse historically and in the current context, to outline similarities and differences in law, practice and attitudes between Alberta’s eugenics age and the present.

The project has received ethical approval through the University of Lethbridge, and all information collected will be treated anonymously and in confidentiality. Interested people should contact research assistant Gillian Ayers (403-332-4591 or by e-mail at to arrange an interview.