Jan 182018
 

It happens when parents send their gay children to “conversion therapy” to “turn them straight.” It happens when doctors withhold sexual health information, or sterilize a patient without that patient’s informed consent. It happens when the medical establishment performs medically unnecessary surgeries on babies because their genitals and other sex characteristics don’t match what medical textbooks say is “normal.” It happens when people with disabilities are denied sex education, or when disabled adults’ relationships are laughed off as “cute little friendships.” It happens when disabled people’s caregivers forbid relationships, separate lovers, and punish sexual exploration.

What happens?

People, usually people in power (like parents and teachers and doctors) are sending the loud and clear message: “We get to decide who you will be. We get to pass judgment on the essence of who you are.”

It’s not limited to people in power, though. Random strangers on the street make decisions about other people’s sexual choices, and sexual expression – it leads to everything from verbal taunts to profoundly horrific acts of violence.

What does this say? It says that the people around us – the ones we trust (or are supposed to trust), and the ones we don’t even know that some of those people believe they own our bodies.

This judgment, this control, this manipulation or ridicule – it all snapped into focus for me when I read this blog post from Dave Hingsburger, drawing parallels between the criminalization of LGBQ and transgender folks and the absolute, often punishing control, that’s been exerted over the sexual lives of people with intellectual disabilities.

It’s the idea of ownership, that people who make these sweeping and controlling judgments of sexual expression are acting like they own another person’s body, as if it’s right and normal to take this ownership, as if they have, or want, “ownership over another persons body, another persons heart and another persons choices.”

Jan 052018
 
A magnifying glass, for looking closer at what's right in front of us.

I wrote a while back about the multi-layered and inexcusable discrimination many disabled parents face.

There’s nothing about having a disability that makes someone less capable of parenting.ser

That feels too obvious to even say, but it’s a truth, obvious or not, that needs to be repeated over and over until people get it, until disabled parents
don’t have to fight tooth and nail to be able to care for their own children.

But, expecting and new parents with disabilities usually face doubt, or invasive questioning, or inadequate services, or loss of child custody, or months- or years-long court cases fighting for parental rights (usually while the child lives in foster care). These actions are taken, we’re told, to protect children. But these situations are usually about disability, not about child welfare. They’re about assuming that disabled adults themselves aren’t any more capable than children. They’re aboutthe lack of education legal, medical, and social service professionals get about disability, and about how that lack leaves room for personal biases. They’re about these same professionals knowingly or unknowingly setting disabled parents up to fail the “tests” put to them to judge their parenting fitness, by not providing parenting information in accessible formats (Braille, audio, large print, plain language) or by not providing accessible equipment (such as a changing table with the right set-up for a wheelchair user needs to reach everything and keep the baby safe).

Now, a new law in Illinois spells out the rights of blind and vision-impaired parents.

Under this law, social workers, lawyers and judges (and anyone else involved in child custody proceedings) won’t be able to use a parent’s blindness as evidence that they should or shouldn’t be given custody, and blindness cannot be a factor in evaluating a person’s fitness to become a foster or adoptive parent.

This law establishes “procedural safeguards that require adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Yes, you read that right. A state law was drawn up and enacted to make sure a nearly 28-year-old federal law is followed. Not just that, but the Americans With Disabilities Act protects people with many kinds of disabilities. This law focuses only on blind parents.

Why not more inclusive? I don’t know, except to guess that whoever proposed this law has a personal stake in making sure that blind parents aren’t discriminated against. That’s awesome, but I wish they’d been more forward thinking to include all recognized disabilities, or at least some categories, such as sensory and physical disabilities.

As it stands now, this extra state protection applies to only a small part of the disabled parent population. If you’re blind, and you’re an Illinois resident, you’re good, but, knowing that disability discrimination touches everyone, and that it can have disastrous consequences when children are involved, I can’t help wishing that the time and effort taken to draw up extra legal protections couldn’t be used to create protections that are more wide-ranging.

On the hopeful side, perhaps the passing of this law will raise awareness among policy-makers and activists.

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For more data on parents with disabilities in the United States, check out this post I wrote about the 2016 White House Forum on Parents With Disability. (Just an aside: It’s hard to imagine this forum happening in the current political climate.)

Or, see why I included parenting in target=”_blank”>this list of “need to know” data for healthcare providers.