[Nfbmo] Setting the record straight about Baby Mikaela and her parents

Gary Wunder gwunder at earthlink.net
Sun Jul 25 02:29:41 UTC 2010

Hello folks. I've been off the list for a couple of days, and I have to tell
you that I'm somewhat disheartened by some of the messages. It's almost like
the facts have gotten lost here. Let me see if I can put some of them down.

When Erika first attempted to feed her baby, she was not given instruction
as to how to do it. She was the one who reported a problem, and that problem
was resolved simply by repositioning the baby and showing Erika how to
ensure that the baby's nose was free for breathing. The hospital records do
not reflect anything to indicate there was a code blue or that anyone
besides the nurse had to become involved in the incident.

Now we come to what happened afterward. You can certainly make the argument
that the nurse, if there was any kind of question, thought of herself as a
mandated reporter and took the safe road by calling the Children's Services
Division. For me the biggest problem is what happened after the Children's
Services Division became involved. Erika reports that she was asked how she
would bathe her baby, diaper it, know where it was, and take its
temperature. These questions she answered. That should have been sufficient.

When we heard about this incident, we started by contacting Rehabilitation
Services for the Blind, which, like the Children's Services Division, is a
part of the Missouri Department of Social Services. They were certainly
upset by the situation, offered services,  but told the judge they were in a
difficult position because, while they had offered their services to educate
The Children's Services Division about issues of blindness, they were in no
position to see that their offer was accepted.

We contacted the Children's Services Division both through in formal
channels and through legal counsel. They were not interested in learning
about blindness. They were not interested in talking with us.

When we were involved in what was the second hearing regarding this case,
the judge (actually she is called a commissioner) was quite concerned about
the actions of the agency and let it be known. She observed that this most
certainly was not the first blind couple to raise a child, and that she
would be very surprised if the hospital in question had not seen blind
parents before. She indicated that while she was on vacation, an attempt
should be made to increase the number of visits which Blake and Eric got
with Mikaela, that some of those visits should be unsupervised, and that
there should be some overnight visits in the mix. This did not find its way
into her written decision, however, and with the exception of one
unsupervised visit, which took place on the Friday before Mikaela was
returned, I know of only one unsupervised visit in the fifty-seven days in
which Erika and Blake were prevented from caring for their child. There were
no overnight visits, unsupervised or otherwise.

Some have observed here that the Children's Services Division actually did
the right thing by coming to its senses. May I politely respond hogwash! The
Children's Services Division started negotiations on the day before the
evidentiary hearing was to take place. They delivered Mikaela to her home at
9 AM, produced papers for our lawyer at 11 AM, and all to avoid the hearing
which was scheduled for 3 PM. They did not benevolently relent. They waited
as long as they possibly could before having to defend their actions with
Blake, Erika, and the national Federation of the blind being represented by

There has been a lot of discussion about whether the actions we are now
going to take are vengeful or punitive. The religions which many of us share
give us no right to be vengeful. Let me ask you to consider whether we
should let Blake and Erika's case rest now that they have custody of their
child, or whether we should use it, as we have used so many others in the
past, to establish some meaningful precedent. I, for one, am not satisfied
to let the prevailing legal wisdom be that you can take a child from blind
parents and, if you decide you've made a mistake after 57 days, can return
them with no consequences. I respect the work that children's services
workers do. I want children protected from abuse. I want children removed
from homes where drug use makes the parents irresponsible. I want children
removed from homes where they are clearly neglected. I do not wish to make
the lives of hard-working public servants more difficult than they already
are. Nevertheless, I don't think those of us in the National Federation of
the Blind should be happy or comfortable with settling for anything less
than a systemic change. What was done was against the law. The Federal
Office for Civil Rights is extremely interested in the case. There are at
least three motions we are prepared to file in the court system where the
legal and constitutional rights of blind people have been violated.

One of the most troubling experiences I had at the national convention this
year was talking with young people who almost begged me to convince them
they were hearing it wrong. Some came to talk with me and started our
conversation by asking whether this was some urban legend which had gotten
started on the Internet with which my name had been associated. I had to
tell them that it was no urban legend and that its association with my name
was no accident. Others came to ask me whether this was a past event which
somehow had resurfaced. What they wanted to know was how long ago this had
happened. No matter the questions with which they came, all of them left
badly shaken. Many remarked that they were newly engaged and were planning
to have children. Others reported being newly married and that a child was
on the way. All of them were concerned, because they thought all of these
issues about child custody and blindness had long since been resolved by the
National Federation of the Blind.

Sometimes government bashing takes second place only to the World Series and
the Super Bowl in terms of a public past time, and I don't want to be a part
of that. What I do want to see the Federation be a part of is exposing this
behavior for exactly what it is, and for saying to everyone who has ears,
whether they work in a social service agency, a hospital, a newspaper, or in
some small factory down the road, that blindness is no reason to take a
child from its parents. Should we educate? Of course we should, and no doubt
one of the things we will be asking that the court address is education for
the entities that are the targets of our actions.

I understand, as do we all, that blindness is a terribly misunderstood
disability, and whenever I can, I try to be compassionate about the way I
address the issue. Even so, there is a difference between being
compassionate and understanding about people who are ignorant when it comes
to what we need and what we can do, and concluding that because there is
widespread misunderstanding, we really have no right to complain or do
anything about it. I think we have to make a firm statement. That firm
statement has to be "You will not take our children. If you do, there will
be consequences and they will be severe. If you will let us teach you
through our public outreach and our seminars, will be glad to have you, but
if you make us, we will teach you in the commissions and courts charged with
defending the civil rights of America's citizens."

As a final note, let me suggest that Missouri happens to be the state
receiving attention now, but Missouri is no different from many other states
when it comes to their knowledge of blind people and the speed with which
they address issues such as this. One person several weeks ago wrote to
inquire in what small backward town this took place, only to learn the small
town was not a small town at all but Kansas City. Geography offers us little
protection. We must all be vigilant and guard against the idea that this
could never happen to us because we live in a more progressive community.


P.S. We have some reason to believe this will receive national coverage on
CBS on Monday morning.


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