If you join a Facebook group for blind parents, there are certain topics that come up again and again. What is the best car seat to use, when you don’t drive and will therefore be installing and uninstalling your child’s car seat in an Uber or Lyft vehicle several times a day? What is the easiest baby stroller to pull behind yourself while you’re using a cane or a guide dog? What are some strategies to help your kids with their homework, when all their textbooks are in print? And why, oh why, do people have such completely inaccurate ideas about blind parents?
Blindness is considered a low incidence disability. While most estimates show that there are around 10 million blind people in the United States and we are generally active in our communities, our numbers pale in comparison to people with more common disabilities, such as autism and learning disabilities. Therefore, it’s easy for many people to go most of their lives without meeting or having a substantial relationship with someone who is blind. The only information many people get about blind people is the wildly inaccurate depictions of us in books, movies and TV shows. Blind people are generally portrayed as either helpless, childlike or superhuman. We long for cures, we’re all musical geniuses and we’re usually completely asexual. We can barely take care of ourselves, let alone other human beings.
Considering that many people have never known someone who is blind and the depictions in the media are so absurd, it’s little wonder why there are so many myths and misconceptions surrounding parents who are blind.
Here are just a few of my personal faves:
Our kids are such a huge help to us.
Let me drop some knowledge right here: Infants and toddlers are helpful to no one. Almost no one’s life has been made easier, more convenient or less expensive by having a child. Even at age 5, my son’s two primary daily chores are making his bed before he leaves the house in the morning and cleaning up all his toys before he goes to bed each night. Neither of these chores would even exist if he didn’t exist.
Blind parents are responsible for feeding, diapering and getting up around the clock with their newborn babies. We pay for our kids’ preschool and swimming classes. We haul them around on the bus and in Uber and Lyft to get them to early morning sports practices. Like most parents, I feel like 90 percent of my husband’s and my time, energy and resources are spent on our kids. We rarely buy gifts for ourselves or each other. We get a date night about once every other month. We haven’t taken a real adult vacation that did not revolve around Nemo or Mickey Mouse for over two years.
So, yes, while it is helpful when our 5-year-old occasionally finds us the missing TV remote, I’m pretty sure the balance of care and expense tips pretty heavily in our direction.
[Read: When Mom Isn’t Looking.]
If one of the parents is sighted, they do all of the parenting.
I often think that there is an advantage to Greg and I both being blind: At least no one thinks that only one of us is doing all of the parenting!
My friend Jordan Moffitt of Cypress, Texas, who is blind, and her husband Ryan, who is sighted, recently had a baby girl named Reya. A few weeks after the baby’s birth, Ryan was preparing to return to work after taking parental leave. People began asking Jordan, “What are you going to do when Ryan goes back to work?”
“I’ll do the same thing I do when he’s home!” she would reply. “Nurse the baby 24/7 and change diapers!”
She continues, “Ryan does his fair share of caring for Reya, because he’s a great dad, not because I’m blind and can’t care for her myself.”
Terri Rupp of Las Vegas writes a popular blog among blind parents called ” Blind Mom In The Burbs.” She and her husband Aaron, who is sighted, have two children, Marley, 9, and Jackson, 7.
“A lot of people think that, because I have a sighted spouse, that he does everything,” says Terri. “However, Aaron is a firefighter. He works 24-hour shifts, and he’s often gone 72 hours at a time. While he’s gone, not only do I do all the cooking and cleaning, but I also have to do the general house maintenance, take care of the kids, and find ways to get the kids to and from events. I also help the kids with homework and filling out forms, which are tasks that my husband usually does when he is at home.”
Like all families, families with one blind and one sighted parent operate in a thousand different ways. Sometimes, the sighted spouse will take care of running errands and driving the kids around to activities, while the blind parent does the cooking, cleaning and household chores. Some families like to split all chores up equally, so the blind parent will share in running errands and taking the kids around to activities by using the bus or the subway or Uber.
As with all families, sometimes one parent does a disproportionate share of the work. Sometimes it’s the blind parent; sometimes it’s the sighted parent. However, in most cases, parents figure out what works for their family and divide household and child-rearing chores according to their priorities, time, talents and preferences.
There are tons of programs and services to help blind parents.
My husband and I recently moved with our kids from California to Nebraska. The other day at my son’s gymnastics class, one of the other mothers asked me if we were finding it easy to get connected with all the resources that help blind people in Lincoln. I looked at her blankly. “What resources?”
Generally speaking, there are only two types of resources blind people can get in the U.S. The first one is Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income. However, this financial assistance is only available to blind people who are either unemployed, employed but making extremely low wages or very low income.
The other large system in the U.S. that helps people who are blind is vocational rehabilitation. Each state has a federally funded agency which helps people with disabilities get the training, equipment and skills they need to find employment. Newly blind people can get training on using a long white cane, reading Braille, using a computer or an iPad with adaptive technology, and home management, such as cooking, cleaning and basic home maintenance. Vocational rehabilitation agencies will also pay for adaptive computer equipment and many other items a blind person might need in order to find employment.
However, VR services are largely only available to people who are looking for employment. Stay-at-home parents are ineligible. Those who already have a job but need help financing some expensive computer technology for home use are ineligible. If a person loses vision near retirement age and decides to retire a little early, that individual is also ineligible. There is no nationwide system to provide such people with comprehensive adjustment-to-blindness services or quality training in mobility, Braille, adaptive technology and home management. If such people are lucky, they may live in a community with a nonprofit agency that provides a few services, but these services are rare, hard to find, and inadequate to meet the needs of a busy stay-at-home parent or an active retiree.
In short, there is no magical government program that provides all blind parents with housecleaners, nannies and chauffeurs. The vast majority of communities have no organizations that offer free or low-cost reader and driver services, so most blind people pay for these out of pocket.
If your blind friend’s house looks great and they’re getting their kids to every activity in town, it’s not because of some plush public assistance system. So, maybe throw your blind friend a bone. Most blind parents could really use a friendly offer to carpool to sports practice or some help running errands every now and then. Just, please, whatever you do, don’t tell them that their kids must be such a big help!
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