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Disabled Mom Fighting to Keep Her Son

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Chicago Tribune: Kaney O'Neill knows she has limits as a mother.

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The 31-year-old Des Plaines woman cannot walk, move her fingers independently or feel anything from the chest down. A decade ago, O'Neill was a Navy airman apprentice when she was knocked from a balcony during Hurricane Floyd, leaving her a quadriplegic.

When she discovered she was pregnant last December, she felt fear and joy, a journey the Tribune chronicled in August. She quickly embraced the opportunity to raise a child, feeling she had the money and family support to make up for her paralysis.

David Trais, her ex-boyfriend and the 49-year-old father of their now 5-month-old son, disagreed that she was up to the challenge.

In September, Trais sued O'Neill for full custody, charging that his former girlfriend is "not a fit and proper person" to care for their son, Aidan James O'Neill.

In court documents, Trais said O'Neill's disability "greatly limits her ability to care for the minor, or even wake up if the minor is distressed."

O'Neill counters that she always has another able-bodied adult on hand for Aidan -- be it her full-time caretaker, live-in brother or her mother. Even before she gave birth to Aidan, O'Neill said, she never went more than a few hours by herself.

The custody case, expected back before Cook County Judge Patricia Logue next month, raises profound questions about what rights disabled parents have to care for their own children.

Ella Callow, the director of legal programs for the National Center for Parents with Disabilities and their Families, said disabled parents are incorrectly "perceived as unable to perform to standard."

"No judge wants to be the judge who sends a child home when the child gets hurt," said Callow, of the Berkeley, Calif.-based advocacy group.

Callow said the bias against disabled parents is such that judges tend to grant custody to an able-bodied partner "even if they have a history that might usually be a heavy mark against them -- not having been in the child's life, a history of violence, etc."

Trais declined to comment to the Tribune when reached by phone. His attorney did not return repeated calls for comment.

For the rest of this story, go to Chicago Tribune.

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