Parenting is never easy. For disabled people, there are even more challenges. From trying to figure out how to push a stroller or change an infant, it can be a challenge to figure out the logistics of parenting while disabled. However, some people must prove they can be a parent due to a disability.
Todd Elzey has experienced plenty of discrimination throughout his life. Elzey was born in West Jefferson. He was a licensed attorney in California before moving to upstate New York to work for the state’s Medicaid office.
He covered Geneva and Kettering’s city government as a freelance reporter after moving back to Ohio. He is also legally blind and has substantial hearing loss, both of which he has had his entire life.
Until 2016, Elzey was the primary caregiver for his three children. During their ten-year marriage, his wife never questioned his ability to parent their children, he said.
Elzey says that his wife’s attitude changed after their divorce. She threatened him with a lengthy and brutal court battle if he attempted to arrange a custody plan, something he did not want to put his children through.
A divorce attorney he consulted advised him to avoid court at all costs. Elzey didn’t stand a chance against his non-disabled wife, who informed him she would base her argument on his disabilities, according to the attorney.
Instead, after Elzey’s divorce was finalized in 2017, he agreed to a custody arrangement that he did not believe was fair. His ex-wife, he claimed, ignored his visitation rights. He moved less than a mile away. However, he would go months without seeing his children
Elzey, treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, said his experience is not unusual among disabled parents. Because of this, the NFB of Ohio has worked for six years to amend Ohio law to shield disabled parents and expectant parents from determinations of their capacity to provide for their children.
With the signing of Senate Bill 202 by Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday, Ohio joins less than half of the states that have established safeguards for disabled parents, guardians, and caregivers.
According to the National Council on Disability, disabled parents outnumber nondisabled parents in the number of instances referred to children’s services. Disabled parents are twice as likely as nondisabled parents to be referred to children’s services.
Children are removed from households with a parent with a psychiatric disorder up to 80% of the time when a family is reported to children’s services. Removal rates are also high in households with an intellectually disabled parent, according to the council.
Kaney O’Neill, is a quadriplegic. In 2009, she went to court to prove that she was fit for motherhood. O’Neil fell off a balcony which left her quadriplegic. She was embroiled in a bitter custody battle with her ex-boyfriend regarding her son Aidan.
My biggest concern is that my child would be resent of having a disabled mother. I wouldn’t be able to push them on the swing set or take them sledding. Raising a child entails far more than just physical care. I would do everything possible to ensure that my child was happy, healthy, and kind.
As a woman with Cerebral Palsy, I’ve often considered having children later in life. I often wonder if society would deem me unfit for motherhood because of my Cerebral Palsy. Regardless of whether society thinks I am fit to be a mother, all that would matter to me is that my child knows that they are loved unconditionally.
Brownstein, Joseph. “Quadriplegic Mother Fights for Custody of Son.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 22 Dec. 2009, https://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/quadraplegic-mother-fights-maintain-custody-son/story?id=9403163.
Szilagy, Sarah. “New Ohio Law Protects Disabled People’s Parental Rights.” WDTN.com, Nexstar Media Group, 6 Jan. 2023, https://www.wdtn.com/news/ohio/new-ohio-law-protects-disabled-peoples-parental-rights/amp/.