According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), many disabled persons qualify to be considered as adoptive parents. It’s the law. And it applies to both public and private adoption agencies.

No Categorical Rejection

Madelyn Freundlich, former executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, writes that a

[c]ategorical rejection of individuals with disabilities as prospective adoptive parents on such bases as blindness, deafness, HIV infection, or history of drug use and treatment will violate the ADA and expose adoption agencies to liability.

However, it should be noted that in a 1998 court case in New York, a ruling was handed down that agencies may deny placement based on a prospective parent’s disabilities. The court ruled that it is the job of the agency to find a suitable family for a child, not a child for a family. If a disability appears to be a legitimate concern, placement may be denied, as long as this is not part of a routine exclusion of prospective parents based on disabilities.

General terms

Title II and Title III of the act refer to public and private entities, respectively. Terms and definitions are the same in both titles, and they apply to both public and private adoption services.

An individual is considered “disabled” and is protected from discrimination if

  • he/she has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life abilities, or
  • he/she has a record of such an impairment, or
  • he/she is regarded as having such an impairment, which includes
    • when an impairment is treated as if it limits major life abilities, or
    • limited abilities as a result of attitudes of others about the impairment, or
    • when no impairment exists but the individual is treated by others as though it does.

What are “major life abilities”?

As described in a discussion of the act from the US Department of Justice (DOJ), major life abilities include “such things as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.”

It really can happen, and not just in the US!

Jamie Berke, the Guide to Deafness/Hard of Hearing at About.com, is an adoptive parent and successful businessperson, and she’s deaf. Her own experience led her to establish a listing of deaf children awaiting adoption, the Deaf Adoption News Service.

In Ireland, Noleen Kavanaugh adopted her daughter, Laura, from Romania. Noleen has cerebral palsy.

In her book, ”The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Adoption,” Christine Adamec advises disabled persons seeking to adopt to stay focused on the options open to them and not take initial resistance as a personal affront. Openness about limitations arising from the disability is of utmost importance as is a discussion of the way they are handled. Disabled adopters should know that they are not limited to adopting a special needs child.

If you are a disabled American, you probably already know about protection against discrimination offered to you by the ADA. If you’re in another country, be sure to learn the laws that protect your rights to pursue adoption if you want.

To contact the ADA:
1-800-514-0301 (voice)
1-800-514-0383 (TDD)