Private Practice Episode: Rights for Parents with Visual Impairments

Feb 18, 2011
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One of my guilty pleasures is Thursday night television – Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. I just cannot seem to get enough of those shows – and I’m far from proud of it. Beyond all the drama and crazy relationship story lines, though, one of the things I see week after week is that issues related to disability are always coming up. This past week on Private Practice was no exception.

If you didn’t see it, one of the story lines was of a young mother who had been in the military and had lost both her boyfriend (who was the father of her child) and the majority of her vision when the vehicle they were in hit an IED. She was pregnant at the time of the incident. She comes into the doctor’s office with hopes that they can remove the piece of shrapnel that is lodged in her brain so that she can regain some of her vision. While in the doctor’s office, the baby becomes suffocated while breastfeeding – and the viewers are led to believe that this is the result of the mother’s visual impairment. One of the doctor’s expresses concern that because of her visual impairment, the woman was not fit to raise a child. The grandmother (mother of the father, who died in war) comes into the picture and the battle continues between the mother, the grandmother, and the doctors about who should raise the baby. One doctor sides with the grandmother and says the baby should go with her, while the other half-heartedly supports the mother and says the baby should stay with her. The surgery to improve the mother’s vision does not work, and, eventually, the decision is made that the grandmother will stay with the mother for a while to assist her in raising the baby.

While I am not opposed to this solution at face value, I was quite disappointed in the way that the show handled the issue. At no point did they really talk about how people who have visual impairments do raise children. They didn’t discuss different options and all of the assistive technology that is available to help. They didn’t go into any detail of what specific things might be difficult and how they could be worked through. The only two options that were really discussed and supported at all were either (1) the baby goes home with the grandmother or (2) the grandmother stays and helps the mother raise the baby. This only perpetuated the myth that the woman was innately unfit to be a mother because of her visual impairment.

This whole issue made me curious about what information is out there. So I did a quick search on the web and so many things came up about people with visual impairments fighting for parental rights. I have to be honest, I had no idea this was such an issue! Here are just a few things I saw:

Experiences of parents with visual impairments who are raising children

Blind parents: Get informed and protect your God given rights to raise your children

Protection of custody rights for blind parents and blind caregivers

And then I found this video, which is what I am willing to bet the episode was based on:

My personal opinion is that Private Practice could have done a better job of using this as an opportunity for education and awareness – unfortunately, they missed the boat on this one.

Author: Carolyn