This week at the Virginia General Assembly, a House subcommittee considered a bill that would protect the rights of blind parents. Witnesses testified about the fear that new parents who are blind face, when social workers or hospital staff make assumptions about their ability to be parents if they are blind. Advocates asked for specific language in the law, making it clear that someone could not lose their constitutional parental rights simply because they are blind.
The advocates who had been working on the proposal had not heard of any opposition to the bill, but lawyers from a Family Law coalition objected to the creation of special protections for blind parents, and the House subcommittee killed the bill.
During the debate, one of the committee members asked whether this is not already addressed by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawyers opposing the bill felt that it was. The ADA, now more than 20 years old, does prohibit state and local governments from discriminating on the basis of disability, so in theory, it ought to already restrict a court or a social service agency from acting solely on the basis of a parent’s disability.
And yet, it happens. A few years ago, blind parents in another state lost custody of their own child simply because the blind mother was having difficulty breast-feeding the infant. Here in Virginia not so long ago, a friend of mine feared the same outcome when ill-informed hospital staff quizzed the new mother about her resources. She was well prepared for the scrutiny, however, and ended up teaching the hospital staff about adaptive techniques and resources used by blind parents.
It may be that blind parents need to use child-rearing techniques that differ from those used by sighted parents. Or it may be that sighted parents could learn from some of the techniques used by blind parents! Couldn’t “jingle shoes” help a busy parent keep track of a child’s activities, whether the parent is blind or not? You can read about other resources used by blind parents in a publication created by the National Federation for the Blind, called Parenting without Sight:
We know that parenting is hard enough, without the extra burden of discrimination by well meaning state agencies. We hope that a solution can be found in the future.