Another reminder of the exclusion of people with disabilities from society came in the form of a news release last month. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released their Annual Report on the Federal Work Force for Fiscal Year 2009.
According to the news release, " . . . , for the first time since FY 1995, the percentage of people with targeted disabilities in federal jobs held steady, halting a 13-year decline. However, despite a modest net gain of 236 employees in FY 2009 over FY 2008, people with targeted disabilities still remain below one percent (0.88 percent) of the total work force. Targeted disabilities include deafness, blindness, missing extremities, partial or complete paralysis, convulsive disorders, mental retardation, mental illness, and distortion of the limb and/or spine."
The total percentage of people with disabilities in North America is estimated to be between 15 and 20 per cent of the population. Some of these people are retirees; others are unable to work; still others are people who would not be included in these "targeted disability" categories. Still, considering that less than one per cent of the US Federal workforce are people living with these targeted disabilities, we find in this statistic another reminder that people with disabilities live at the very margins of society.
When I led a series of workshops at a conference for church leaders in Kenya recently, I was struck by the sense of responsibility that these pastors carried on their shoulders. As far as I could tell, they believed that if their societies were going to become more inclusive of people with disabilities, the people of the church would have to be the prime movers to bring about this change.
As I wrote last week, one pastor stood up and called his fellow pastors and church leaders to action. Another did the same by saying, "We can't just take what we have learned here and put it on a shelf. We must develop action plans so that people with disabilities also become part of our churches."
What is true for the church in Africa is also true for the church in North America. We cannot assume that government or employers or community organizations are going to make sure that all people (including people with disabilities) are included in the life of our communities. It begins with us, the men and women, boys and girls, of local churches spread across our continent.
Author and pastor Bill Hybels said, "The local church is the hope of the world, and its future rests primarily in the hands of its leaders." Like the parable of the yeast in the dough (Matthew 13:33), we must see ourselves as God sees us - the primary agents for becoming a more inclusive and loving culture, society, and world.