Baby Sent to Foster Care for 57 Days Because Parents Are Blind

The couple was allowed to have hourly supervised visits a few times a week but could not bring Mikeala home without a hiring a helper with sight who could work around the clock.

"I told her I didn't understand and it was ridiculous that we had to go through this," said Johnson. "We even went to visit her in the hospital before she had been placed and we were not allowed to hold her."

"There will be situations where it is appropriate to get child welfare involved if there is real concern about the safety of the baby," said Dr. Cindy Christian, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia and chair of the committee on child abuse and neglect for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"When we know what the disability is when they are first born, it's not appropriate to call social services if everything else is OK. You strategize if they are blind parents and call some blind services in the area and see what support is available…In a situation, not knowing the facts, you always work with the family before thinking of removing the child simply because of a disability."

An estimated 1.3 million Americans are blind, and many of them successfully go on to be parents, according to the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

When Johnson was 13 months old, she had an allergic reaction to medications that caused Stevens-Johnson syndrome, severe skin blistering that damaged her corneas. Sinnet has been blind since birth.

"I see colors and people up close, and can see enough to read print if it's large enough," she said. "I am legally blind, but I have some sight."

The couple met through an online blind network. Johnson moved from Tennessee, where she was in college, to Missouri when they found out she was pregnant.

"Blind people can do virtually anything," said NFB spokesman Chris Danielsen. "The only thing we can't do right now that I can think of is drive. The misconception is that if you don't have sight, simply, you don't have the capacity. What people fail to think about is that blind people develop alternate ways of doing things."

Johnson's nurse said he was concerned how a blind mother would be able to take the baby's temperature, or what she would do in an emergency.

Now, parents can buy "talking" thermometers, according to Danielsen. "How would they get to the doctor? They would use public transport or take a cab. They would call 911 if it were an emergency. There is nothing inherently visual about diapering and breastfeeding. They still have a sense of hearing."

Baby monitors, child-proofing and other precautionary measures do not require sight, Danielsen said.

Such is the case with Mark and Melissa Riccobono, who are both blind and raising a 3-year-old son and an infant daughter only six days older than Mikaela Sinnett. Melissa was born without sight and Mark lost most of his vision from glaucoma.

Melissa, 31 and a former school counselor and educational consultant for Discovery Toys, said she wanted to be a mother all her life.

"My older sister is also blind and she has three children," she said. "When it was time for us to start, I never questioned it. I had a lot of experience with nieces and nephews and helped babysit in high school. Families trusted me with their kids from infants to 10 years old. I knew blind people could do it."

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