JEFFERSON CITY - Parents with disabilities testified Wednesday about a bill that prevents them from losing their child solely because they have a disability. The parent supporters said that people with disabilities are qualified to be parents and should not live in fear of losing their children.
The bill sponsor, Rep. Thomas Long, R-Battlefield, said his bill comes on the heels of cases where some parents with disabilities lose their children unfairly. He said two parents recently lost custody of their daughter for 57 days because they were blind.
"I cannot imagine another person with a disability having to not know where their child is," said Debbie Wunder, a supporter of the bill. "I do not want another family to go through this heartache."
Wunder and her husband, who are both blind, said she raised her four children to be successful.
"The thing I treasure most is being a mother," she said.
While no one spoke in opposition to the bill, some questions were raised during the hearing.
Many of the bill supporters said they used special technology to help them raise their children. A spokesman for the Paraquad Independent Living Center said that these technologies were often too expensive for many people to purchase.
Wunder said she uses braille labels to differentiate between different medicines and foods. Many of the witnesses used special readers that allowed them to type in braille in order to give their testimonies.
The lack of accessible technology could result in challenges for parents with disabilities, the spokesman for the Paraquad Center said.
Lawmakers on the committee said they supported the bill and were appalled that parents were losing their children because of a disability.
"This [bill] is long overdue," said Rep. Eileen McGeoghegan, D-St. Louis County.
Long said his bill would take some of the current discretion out of family law when it comes to disabilities.
"We are moving the bias over," he said.
Members of the committee also said they would pursue other reforms for people with disabilities, including establishing a Disability Awareness Month.
"We have a larger goal of starting a conversation," said Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla.
The committee will vote on the bill at its next executive session on Monday.