Blind parents face challenges, new protections

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND)- For Rachel Schroeder, becoming a mother wasn’t easy.

After a divorce, she had hoped to adopt but found challenges.

Schroeder is blind.

“I met roadblocks the whole way about trying to adopt and even go into foster care,” Schroeder said. “They would say they would want to work with me but wouldn’t follow through or do everything they could to discourage me.”

Eventually, Schroeder conceived through in vitro fertilization and gave birth to her daughter, Delaney.

“I had people that were concerned,” Schroeder said. “They probably thought I was crazy for doing it, and at times I thought I might have been crazy for doing it, but ultimately, through my whole life, I’ve had the attitude that if I want to do something, I’m going to find t he way to do it.”

But parents who are blind say, even after they have children, they still encounter challenges and biases.

Patti Gregory-Chang, an attorney from Chicago who works with the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, said she has often encountered cases in which parents are kept from bringing children home from hospitals or are denied custody in divorces, even after serving as a child’s primary caregiver.

“It’s often an attorney who’s doing the best they can for their client, but raises the blindness and says ‘Well now judge, you have to do what’s best for the child, and it’s not good for a blind parent to take care of a child,'” Chang said.

Chang, a mother of two grown children, said blind parents can parent effectively with help from others in the blind community.

“Just because a sighted person can’t do it tomorrow doesn’t mean a blind person can’t competently do it today,” Chang said. “I travel every day. You probably can’t conceive of traveling being totally blind. But I do it and have the experience doing it. Parenting’s the same way.”

In 2017, the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill forbidding blindness alone from deciding custody or participation in adoption or foster care. Still, advocates for parents who are blind say they still have work to do.

“The law only says what shouldn’t happen, so now DCFS has to come up with the regulations,” said Denise Avant, President of the National Federation of the Blind in Illinois. “We … have contacted the department and said, as you’re developing regulations and training, we would like to help.”

Even with the new law in place, Schroeder said parents still worry the biases of others could affect the relationships of blind parents and their children.

“Unfortunately, there is that fear that, and I’ve heard it from other people … that if I take my kid to an ER, their first thought is going to be this incident, whatever it might be, happened because I’m a blind parent,” Schroeder said. “That shouldn’t be the focus.”

Chang also pointed to several online resources for parents who are blind, for attorneys and social workers, and for government workers

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