headshot of Terry DeYoung

"Wait. You're Disabled!"

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This article is part of our Summer 2021 Breaking Barriers. This installment focuses the arts and disability. If you'd like to read more stories from this issue, please subscribe to Breaking Barriers

Early in my ministry I led courses to help people discover and use their spiritual gifts. Utilizing various tools and soliciting feedback from others who knew them well, people often were surprised by the giftings that surfaced in this process of discernment. Sometimes they were eager to step into new roles. Sometimes they needed encouragement to take that next step. Sometimes others cast doubt on them for thinking they could do more than they had. 

This issue of Breaking Barriers celebrates the artistic giftings of people with disabilities. If you’re surprised that a woman who’s blind can compose and sing beautiful music, or puzzled that someone diagnosed with schizophrenia can convert an account from the Gospels onto canvas, you’re not alone, sadly. It’s troubling how many people mistake “disability” for “lack of ability.” This isn’t a sense of awe when someone thinks, “I had no idea you could do that!” Instead, it’s thinking less of a person and assuming, “You’re disabled. How can you do that!” 

People with disabilities learn to be agile as we adapt every single day to an ableist world that isn’t designed or built with us in mind—and worse, doubts that we have something meaningful to contribute. The acute limitations some of us live with require imagination and creativity that often surprise able-bodied people who make assumptions or have grown accustomed to expecting less from people with disabilities. The fact is, we’re quite adept at figuring out alternative ways of getting things done, often because we have to. 

As this issue demonstrates, some people with disabilities are gifted with artistry that generates delight when it finds expression.

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