Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A throw back to the dark ages

I was reading my Braille Monitor over the weekend and found the following story. I was both mortified to think that this sort of thing is still happening now, in the 21st century – but then I thought about it again. Sadly, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

The story is about a man who is blind. In his divorce case, his ability to parent was brought into question simply because he is blind – even though he’d already been a successful parent for years.

I am not a parent and likely never will be.

It’s something that truly breaks my heart and can make me very emotional. I always wanted to be a mom. I’ve worked with kids of all ages, and for a brief time, even worked as a nanny during my summers in high school.

Yet, for some reason, since I began using my cane – something I happen to find incredibly helpful – no one seeks out my help with children (outside of the blind community and a few close friends who know better.) I have volunteered to babysit for couples at church for free – some of whom so clearly need a couples night and can’t afford a sitter. I have volunteered to work with the children, to help with the church’s tutoring program etc. I have volunteered to babysit for co-workers and other sighted friends.

In work settings I have attended numerous baby showers where the new infant was passed around the room to everyone – except to me – as if somehow sitting on a sofa I’m going to somehow drop the poor child.

It’s never an obvious sort of thing. Someone else has already volunteered – the program already has enough volunteers etc. Yet, it is something that happens with so much consistency that I can’t help but imagine that at least part of the time misgivings about my vision and my ability to care for children are at the root.

Yet, because people are so “polite” and thus so “subtle” it’s very hard to address the problem without sounding paranoid. At the same time, it’s very hard to feel welcome, accepted or even basically respected in a group that has such a poor opinion of your abilities, even after knowing you.

The truth is there are tens of thousands of very successful blind parents out there. Yet, the public’s understanding and attitudes about low vision and blindness are still so low that to many questioning a blind person’s ability to care for a child seems like a sadly logical question.

We still have a long way to go in this area I’m afraid.

Here’s the story:

Defending Our Right to Parent
by Michael Bullis
From the Editor: Michael Bullis is executive director of the Maryland TAP (Technology Access Program) and a leader of the NFB of Maryland. He is also a devoted father. In the following article he raises an issue that has become dear to his heart. It is a nightmare that lurks in the shadows for every blind parent. This is what he says:

It might seem that no personal right could be safely taken more for granted than the right to parent. It is so central to our social contract with one another that it isn't written. Our forefathers didn't even bother to enshrine it in the Constitution. For the most part the right to parent is conferred on an adult until or unless he or she demonstrates some incapacity. Most parents begin the task of raising children with no training and little actual experience. It is truly an on-the-job training program that usually results in children who grow up to be functioning adults.

Yet that right is daily brought into question in the experience of blind parents. Each young and deliriously happy blind mother or father discovers that a shadow is cast over what should be a joyous experience. These parents must be prepared for the possibility that, based on fear alone, some hospital worker, nurse, or doctor will question their ability to parent.

The questions begin innocuously enough. "How will you change your baby’s diaper?" "How will you know if your child is in pain?" "How will you know if the baby stops breathing?" "Suppose you drop the baby or strike its head against a door jam?"
You might respond that every parent, blind or sighted, probably asks him- or herself these questions. But, if you are blind, the questions can result in a visit from county social workers or state officials with the power to take your child, whether you have had any difficulties or not. In their minds you are guilty until proven innocent, a victim of their own fears of how they would manage a baby if they couldn't see. Far too often, well-intentioned social workers take the children of blind parents or, short of actually removing the child from the home, require parental training or the supervision of a sighted person.

To read the entire story go to:

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Sadly, my own brother was like that toward me when their first kid was born. He didn't want me babysitting - until I cornered my SIL and told her 'how it was' with me, what I would do in certain situations, etc. It's a little better now, but still. . . it hurts. Quite surprising in this day and age, I think!