Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Parenting As A Civil Right

If you read my blog with any regularity, you know that I hold no one in higher esteem than my mother, who passed away in 2010. She was a really fine woman, and a terrific mother. I cannot imagine a more supportive, loving person to have as a parent. She was not perfect, and she had a temper, but she was never stingy with love and/or praise. Her love for all of us kids was unconditional. Everything about me that is good, today, I can trace back to my mother. She was a phenomenal parent.

My mother was also a person with multiple disabilities. I mention this because there are people who believe that men and women with disabilities cannot be parents. They think that the need of a wheelchair, or a service animal or assistive technology makes a person unfit to parent a child. This sort of thinking is just plain backwards. Parents don't love and support their kids with arms or legs, eyes or ears. A person with a chronic illness or limited mobility can love and nurture a child just as well - or as badly - as anyone else. Parenting is not about how well a person can see or hear or speak, but about how well they can show love, set boundaries, and create a safe environment where children can meet their full potential. My mother's chronic respiratory disease, degenerative bone disease, kidney failure, and blindness prevented her from doing many things in life, but they never prevented her from being a great parent.

To state that a person is unfit to parent because of her disability is no different than saying a gay person is unfit to parent because of her sexuality, or that a black person is unfit to parent because of her ethnicity. It's a bigoted concept, plain and simple, and any move to deprive a good parent of custody of her child based on the fact that she has a disability is a violation not only of her civil rights, but of her fundamental human rights. Unfortunately, this is exactly what a woman named Jessie Lorenz is going through, right now.

Jessie is a nationally recognized disability rights advocate whose expertise regarding accessibility, workplace accommodations for people with disabilities, and the Americans with Disabilities Act has served the City of San Francisco, Google, Schindler Elevators, Yahoo, Facebook, and UPS, to name just a few. Her work in this area has garnered an invitation to the White House, for this year's 25th Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. She is a Paralympic gold medal winner.  She is one of the most independent, self-sufficient people I know. She is incredibly knowledgeable about cutting-edge technology, which she uses every day when she goes to work as Executive Director of a not-for-profit organization specializing in disability rights advocacy. She is a single mother of a wonderful 4 year old girl who I am happy to have as a little friend.  Jessie is also blind.

Jessie, who has had custody of her little girl since the day she was born, finds herself in a position where, suddenly, her fitness as a parent is being challenged. The only issue at hand? The fact that she has a disability. It seems insane to me that such an allegation - that a person who is blind is unfit to parent - would even be entertained by the justice system. Unfortunately, we have not yet reached a moment in American history where the discriminatory nature of such a charge is universally recognized for what it is:  prejudice and an attempt to deprive a parent who has provided her child with the only stable, supportive home environment she has ever known, of her basic human rights.

If you've read this far, I urge you to read Jessie's own words and, if you can, offer your support. I ask, too, that you share this link with people you know. This sort of discrimination can happen to anyone with a disability. It could have happened to my mother - the thought of which makes me sick. People with disabilities are regularly discriminated against in school, in the workplace, in the housing market, in the business sector and, sadly, in Family Court. This is not someone else's problem - it's OUR problem, as a society, and it's OUR job to fix what's broken so that future generations will not inherit a world where discrimination is the order of the day.

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