Recently, the State of Illinois passed the Parental Rights for the Blind Act (750 ILCS 85/1, et seq.) in order to protect blind parents from being discriminated against in legal proceedings involving children, such as parenting disputes, guardianship proceedings, and private adoptions. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act provides some protections for blind individuals, it is an unfortunate reality that people often question a blind individual's ability to care for a child simply because that person is blind. The Act recognizes that blind individuals often face discrimination not only in society, but in parentage, custody, and other proceedings involving children, such as adoptions. Section 5 of the Act indicates that, in enacting the Parental Rights for the Blind Act, the Illinois Legislature found “blind individuals continue to face unfair, preconceived, and unnecessary societal biases as well as antiquated attitudes regarding their ability to successfully parent their children . . . .” and that sometimes “blind individuals face these biases and preconceived attitudes in family and dependency law proceedings in which the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time are at stake . . . .” Finally, the legislature specifically found that, because of these biases “children of blind parents are unnecessarily being removed from their parents' care or being restricted from enjoying meaningful time with their parents. . . .” This is highly concerning considering that a person's blindness alone does not hinder his or her ability to parent or otherwise spend quality time with a child.
Thankfully, the State of Illinois enacted the Parental Rights for the Blind Act to address these social and legal biases. The purpose of the Act is to protect the interests of children of blind parents by ensuring that blind parents are afforded due process in disputes where the blind individual's parental rights or abilities are at stake. The Act achieves this purpose by setting up procedural safeguards for blind individuals in certain legal proceedings involving children. For instance, the Act specifically prohibits the court from using a person's blindness as a basis for denying or restricting parenting time with his or her child, if the parenting time would otherwise be in the best interests of the child. In other words, the Court cannot deny a parent the right to see their child or make significant decisions regarding their child just because that parent is blind. Similarly, the Act prohibits the Court from denying an adoption, foster care arrangement, or guardianship of a child solely on the basis that the person requesting to adopt the child, be a foster parent, or be a guardian is blind. In addition to these prohibitions, the Act requires the Department of Children and Family Services to develop internal procedures that ensure blind individuals are not discriminated against and receive equal access to child welfare services.
Hopefully this Act will ensure that blind parents are treated fairly in these legal proceedings. If you feel you have been discriminated against in a family law proceeding simply because you are blind, feel free to contact our office for your free consultation.