Happy Anniversary to the Americans with Disabilities Act!

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This morning, I gave this brief talk and offered a prayer at my church's morning worship service (Intersection Ministries). Some of the language in what follows has been taken from email messages that Terry DeYoung, Coordinator for Reformed Church in American (RCA) Disability Concerns, sent over the course of this past month to RCA congregations.

The United States has been thinking intensely about racism recently. I thank God for that! This morning I’d like you to think about another kind of discrimination, discrimination against people with disabilities, which is called  ableism

Thirty years ago today, the United States adopted landmark civil rights legislation called the Americans with Disabilities Act or the ADA. Many people assume that the Americans with Disabilities Act is only about facilities. In fact, the act prohibits discrimination in transportation, communications, employment, public accommodations, and more. The worst barriers faced by people with disabilities usually result from attitudes and environments that we all create and could change, rather from the functional limitation caused by the person’s disability. Here are a few examples:

  • Only 19 percent of adults with disabilities held jobs last year, compared with 66 percent of adults without disabilities.
  • Children with physical and intellectual disabilities have fewer options for extracurricular activities and job training.
  • Disabled people are more likely to be incarcerated and to be victims of violence including police violence, especially if they are not white.
  • Voter turnout of adults with disabilities is low, partly because of logistical difficulties. (“If people with disabilities voted at the same rate as otherwise-similar people without disabilities, there would be an additional 2.35 million voters,” a Rutgers University analysis concluded.) (These bullet points are quoted from the  New York Times.)

Several years ago, Intersection Ministries adopted a policy on disabilities, in which, among other things, we agreed “to comply with applicable laws about reasonable accommodation. We seek to remove all barriers to participation with ample discussion by all parties concerned in order to accomplish this goal in an open and reasonable way.”

You might be tempted to think that our church only has a few people with disabilities. But about 20 percent of all Americans live with disabilities, and over half of all Americans over the age of 75 have a disability. So think about people in our church who have challenges with mobility, chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, significant hearing loss and vision loss. Some of our members are so disabled that they can hardly get out; we call them “shut ins.” This is about a whole lot of us who are part of Intersection Ministries. And how about our neighbors? Some people with disabilities live in group homes, like one on Felch Street less than a mile from here. But most people with disabilities live in the houses right around us. 

Although faith communities are exempt from some sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act, most faith-based institutions would say they remain governed by the moral mandates of love and justice. Even if a church is not legally required to comply with a specific part of the Act, in the spirit of the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the new commandment (John 13:34), following the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities is a way for us to be more like Christ. 

For this 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act,  the CRC and the RCA adopted a joint resolution signed by Eddy Alemán, General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, and Colin Watson, Executive Director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. 

Here’s part of that resolution:

the full promise of the ADA will only be reached if we as churches—exempt from some sections of the law—remain committed to fully implement the spirit of the ADA. In creating accessible, welcoming environments for people with disabilities and removing barriers of architecture, communication, and attitude, God’s justice reigns and God’s love prevails. Our churches truly become communities of faith where everybody belongs and everybody serves.

Denominationally, the Christian Reformed Church in North America has supported a Disability Concerns ministry since the early 1980s, and in 1993 its Synod encouraged full ADA compliance by U.S. and Canadian churches. Similarly, in 2008 the Reformed Church in America’s General Synod established an “RCA ministry to, with, and for persons with disabilities and their families” in partnership with CRC Disability Concerns.

On the 30th anniversary of the ADA, the RCA and CRC will celebrate the progress that has been made by reaffirming the principles of equality and belonging for all.

THEREFORE, we do hereby resolve that the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America renew our efforts toward full ADA compliance and toward becoming churches where everybody belongs and everybody serves.

If it has not done so already, your congregation is urged to demonstrate its resolve to become a community of faith where everybody belongs and everybody serves by

  1. appointing a church disability advocate,

  2. adopting a church disability policy,

  3. conducting an accessibility audit, and

  4. identifying several leaders to represent your church in the CRC-RCA Disability Concerns Leadership Training, hosted virtually on August 5–6.

 

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