Usually different is bad. I don’t see miniskirts in retirement villages, kelly green sport coats at bill signing ceremonies, or polyester dress slacks resting on Harley-Davidson seats. People steer clear of a person who is different.
With the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, it's a good time to reflect on the positive and significant changes brought into the church and into people's lives by this legislation.
I’ve wondered why many older people who live with significant disabilities do not identify themselves as disabled, and even take offense at being called disabled. Yet, other people who live with disabilities not only embrace the term but even talk about “disability pride.”
The US Dept. of Justice released results of a first-ever study of crimes against people with disabilities. The sad and not-surprising finding is that people with disabilities are one and one half times as likely to be victims of crime as people without disabilities.
Besides the usual accessibility stuff like ramps and accessible bathrooms, this dorm has built-in lifts, and pagers to call for help 24/7 from personal assistants (most of whom are also U of I students).
Many people have to stay away from church fellowship because their allergies or chemical sensitivities prevent them from interaction with the people there. Churches can take steps to bring at least some people back into community again.
Disability Concerns has partnered with Faith and Hope Ministries to produce a free, downloadable study series on mental illness. Let’s Talk! Breaking the Silence around Mental Illness in Our Communities of Faith will open conversations about this often hidden subject.
When we envision the diverse church, in our minds' eye, we see a diversity of skin colors, foods, ethnic identities, and languages. Usually, we also see we see the young and the old, male and female. But in our vision of the diverse church, we rarely see a boy who uses a wheelchair, woman who lives with mental illness, a girl with Down Syndrome, a man who is blind, or a woman who is Deaf and uses sign language. Why?
Last week I asked why we tend to limit our idea of diversity in church to ethnic diversity. Like one reader responded to the question last week, diversity of ability falls outside of most people's thinking because most people don't want people with disabilities included in their activities.
This guest blog by Alan Johnson, organizer of Widening the Welcome, asks how we talk about mental illnesses. He writes, "Language can be tricky. It can elucidate things or muddy things. So what can we do? Keep on keeping on working on language seeking to describe how things are. Perhaps the best thing is to talk with the person who is affected by a “mental illness” or a “brain disorder” or a “disability” to see how they see it themselves. This is all about relationships anyway."
Why is a church without people with disabilities incomplete? What do we mean by the word “disability”? What is ableism? In what ways are people with disabilities marginalized by societies around the world? What is “healing”? A friend of mine, Carolyn Thompson, directed me to a pithy statement called “The Accessible Church: Toward Becoming The Whole Family Of God” which she helped draft for the Massachusetts Council of Churches. Here are some excerpts.
Although we North Americans are getting better at emphasizing diversity in the workplace, people with disabilities tend to be the last ones that diversity practitioners seek to recruit for jobs. I ran across these reflections by Rob McInness today on why that might be so. He writes,
“Two thirds of Americans with disabilities who want to work are unemployed or underemployed,” says a statement on employment from the American Association of Persons with Disabilities (AAPD). What a waste! So many people, so many gifts and talents going unused or underused. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Journalist Ian Brown applied his skills to plumb the depths of raising a son, Walker, who has severe disabilities resulting from a genetic disorder, CFC. In his quest for meaning, among others he seeks out wisdom from Buddhism, from a shaman at a native healing center, and from Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities. As a Christian, I can’t endorse all of his conclusions, but reading about his journey helped to enlighten my own path. It’s something that some of us Calvinists call “common grace.”
The discussion last week after my post about the Tucson shooting brought home to me all the more clearly that mental illnesses do not affect “those people” over there, but they are us. Pejorative labels like “crazy” and “whacko” only reinforce this separation or stigma which hovers over people with mental illnesses. But the people who live with mental illness are not just those with the disease itself, but also their family members, friends, fellow church members, and society as a whole.