Neither Pity Nor Reverence

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Most people with disabilities that I know don't want to be pitied. But neither do they want to be reverenced as if they were paragons of virtue or models of triumph of the human spirit. Way too many journalists who feature stories about people living with disabilities frame their stories in the "reverence" light. "Here's Joe who lives with X disability, but look at all he has done! What determination. What spirit. What an example for all of us!"

If I lived with a disability, I expect I would get sick and tired of being a role model and example for others.

It seems that Ben Mattlin feels the same way. In his recent commentary on NPR, he talks about his "good luck" in life, in the midst of his living with a disability. But he hastens to add, "Don't get me wrong. I don't see myself as a modern-day Tiny Tim, cheering everybody up. No, thank you. I reject holding myself up as a triumph of the human spirit."

Why do we who are temporarily able bodied feel such a need to pigeon-hole people with disabilities. There's the monster model, in which people with disabilities are viewed as omens of the displeasure of the gods. The pity model feels sorry for anyone living with a disability as if their lives are all misery all the time. The reverence model puts people on a pedastal. Perhaps what unites these models (and others too) is that they keep people with disabilities at a distance from "normal" people. And that distance makes us nondisabled people feel safe, as if a disability is contagious.

What gets me is that these models for disability are as rampant within the church as they are within society at large. It seems that we who are the body of Christ find it very difficult to accept the apostle Paul's reminder that every member of the body is indeed a member.

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