Stories are powerful tools for connecting with each other. Breaking Barriers uses the power of stories—especially stories written by people living with disabilities—to provide us an important opportunity for connection, for learning, and for discipleship. These stories resonate in the Disability Concerns community and in the wider church. —Christina Tazelaar, chief communications officer, Reformed Church in America
Every year, Disability Concerns publishes four issues of the Breaking Barriers newsletter. Breaking Barriers focuses on the first-hand experiences of people living with disabilities, and each issue develops a theme, giving space for people in the RCA and CRCNA to share a portion of their lives around that topic. For more than 13 years the newsletter was co-edited by Terry DeYoung (RCA) and Mark Stephenson (CRCNA). With Mark’s retirement from Disability Concerns at the end of 2021, his successor, Lindsay Wieland Capel, now serves as co-editor.
“I'm glad that we can provide a forum for people with disabilities to tell their own stories instead of having those stories told for them or about them,” DeYoung said. “Breaking Barriers has done this for longer than I've been connected to Disability Concerns, and it's one way we try to challenge the subtle ways ableism shows up in the way things are normally done.”
At the beginning of each calendar year, Disability Concerns submits some of its best work from the prior year to the Associated Church Press (ACP) for its “Best of the Church Press” Awards. (As a professional organization, ACP members are brought together by a common commitment to excellence in journalism as a means to describe, reflect, and support the life of faith and the Christian community.)
During this year’s ACP Convention, Disability Concerns was honored in four categories:
For “Best in Class—Newsletter,” Breaking Barriers received the Award of Merit (second place) for its Winter issue on Unexpected Access, its Spring issue on Race and Disability, and its fall issue on Speech Differences. One judge wrote, “The newsletter opens space for people living with disabilities to express how they feel in their own voices, a critical service in the current media landscape.” Another judge wrote, “Since people often speak for or fail to listen to people with disabilities, it is great to see a publication that gives people living with barriers and disabilities an opportunity to share their stories.”
For “Best in Class—Blog,” Disability Concerns received the Award of Merit (second place) for entries written by Mark Stephenson (Reflections on Leading Disability Concerns Ministry), Chantal Huinink (The Power of Hospitality, Mutuality, and Solidarity), and Ivan Mulder (Pillow Talk: Reflections on Living with a Disability).
For “Devotional/Inspirational (short format),” Breaking Barriers received an Honorable Mention (third place) for "Restored Through My Eyes" by Carma Smidt.
For “Theme Issue, Section Series (newspaper or newsletter),” Breaking Barriers received the Award of Merit (second place) for its issue on "Speech Differences" (Fall 2021).
As contributors to the winning “Best in Class—Blog” category, we invited Chantal Huinink and Ivan Mulder to reflect on the importance of advocacy work.
“Through my lived experience and my work, I seek to demonstrate to people with and without disabilities that full participation in the life of the church is not only possible but necessary for the church to be at its best,” Huinink said. “I desire to support churches and ministries locally and abroad to minister to and be ministered to by families who experience disability.”
“It was my privilege for several years to serve as a church advocate and classis representative for Disability Concerns,” Mulder said. “Breaking Barriers is a valuable resource for educating church members. Real life stories representing various special needs individuals informs as well as promotes understanding, sensitivity, and concern for others.
“I had a very personal reason to be an advocate for people with Disability Concerns,” Ivan continued. “My wife became disabled by disease at age 30. We had three young children at the time. Making necessary home accommodations and providing supportive living tools became a way of life for the entire family during the remaining 45 years of Ruth’s life as debilitation increased. She received greater grace from God, a stronger character, humility, and an ability to empathize with others. In addition, others benefited as they saw God at work in her life, giving her an attitude of contentment, taking things as they came.”
RCA-CRC Disability Concerns is honored to provide space for people with lived disability experience to share their stories with the church through the Breaking Barriers newsletter. Submissions are always welcome and encouraged! Currently we seek articles for the Summer 2022 issue on “Acquired Disability” and the Fall 2022 issue with the theme “Too Disabled!”
“Acquired Disability”—Some people are born with a disability but many others remember a time when they did not have the disability. How has your disability—acquired through stroke, accident, illness, aging—affected you, your relationships, your work and your experience at church? What have you lost, and what have you gained? Please tell us a story (up to 400 words) about your acquired disability by July 8, 2022 (send to [email protected] or [email protected]).
“Too Disabled!”—Many people with disabilities have gotten the message from others that their disability is too limiting, making them unfit or incapable to do something—even before getting the opportunity to prove otherwise. If you’ve ever been told or gotten the impression you were considered “too disabled” for a task, role, or job you wanted to take on, and knew you possessed the needed qualifications, please tell us your story (up to 400 words) by August 1, 2022 (send to [email protected] or [email protected]).
If you are interested in signing up to receive Breaking Barriers, you can sign up here.