Memorial Day 2012

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Lest we forget, out of 2.3 million American veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, 633,000 (25% of the total) have a service-connected disability. Overall, about 3 million (14%) of the total number of living US veterans have a service-connected disability (Bureau of Labor Statistics). We owe an extra debt of gratitude to the disabled vets from our earlier wars in Southeast Asia, even beyond what is due them for their service in war. To a great extent, disabled veterans were responsible for the passage of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

When those returning war heros could not find places to live in the country they served, they refused to be quiet while American architects claimed it was their artistic right to build inaccessible buildings. The vets changed that. If even as many as half of all people with disabilities attended church, think of how many of our disabled warriors from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will show up at our church doors. When they cannot get in or cannot fully participate due to the inaccessible ways we do church, maybe they too, like their Vietnam era counterparts will do something about it.

Today, many barriers to the participation of people with funtional impairments are created digitally. Computers are disabling people with small-print handouts and Web pages, and the projection of song lyrics and scripture verses onto a screen using small font on top of pictures, patterns, or video, which is confusing enough itself, but to add insult to injury, this is being done using poor color contrast. I wonder if an American veteran, partially blinded by a road side bomb in Afghanistan will stand up in the middle of such a Christian worship service and say it is time to stop this.

I hope so.

Church IT workers or worship coordinators who favor blending colors, thinking its pretty, forget that for some people their creativity is difficult to read. They are ignoring the work of Sir Isaac Newton who, some 400 years ago first devised a color contrast wheel. Another of Newton's findings was recently ignored by a large church with its brand new building. Their stadium style auditorium was so steep it terrified members of the church who had concerns about balance and walking, and those who used wheelchairs, walkers, or canes. But who cares about gravity? That's old stuff. We're contemporary!

Few CRC churches have implemented the CRC Synod 1993 resolution agreeing, in Canada and the U.S., to adhere to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Less than a third of CRCs (329) have adopted the Church Policy on Disability. It seems to me that few people in our churches even understand the ADA. The ADA is not about being kind or relating well to people with disabilities. I hope Christians always express the love of God, spread abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. However, the ADA is about removing barriers and not creating more barriers. The ADA affirms that the builders of physical space and the creators and producers of activities and programs have the reasonable responsibility to not disable people by what they create and to not exclude or segregate people who have a functional loss or limitation.

In my opinion, the continuing disability discrimination in our churches stems from ignorance due to our failure to educate students in the area of disability discrimination and inclusion in our grade schools, high schools, colleges, seminaries, and in our preaching and Christian education programs. I notice that non-disabled people under the age of 30 have not been taught even the basics about how to do church inclusively or why they should. They are computer savvy, they even volunteer to help one-on-one, but some are insensitive as to how important participation is and they violate the inclusion of the least of us, apparently in order to entertain the rest of us.

It took warriors to get the ADA passed. Welcome home vets, there is still more work to be done!

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Hi,

Great post!  I was surprised to learn recently that there are more veterans living in the United States today than there was 10 years ago!  About a million more, according to the statistics I just read.  As a vet (USAF, 1966-1970; Vietnam Era) whose family has had members serve in our armed forces as far back as the Revolutionary War, I make it my duty to express my appreciation to every soldier and vet I meet.  And if I see someone in a store wearing a shirt that even says something like, "I'm a soldier's mother/father," I will go and tell them how much I appreciate their sacrifice -- every day of the year, not just on special days.  And on Memorial Day, our flag will be flying and we plan to have a picnic with some vets and their families at our church.  Maybe we will see some of you there!

Peace,

Sam L