Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Disability" Defined

"Disability" is a word accompanied with a world of experience that radically affects living OR "disability" is just a word that applies to OTHER people. Just like the saying that into every life some rain will fall, it is equally almost certain that into every family "disability" in one form or another will happen.

Disability can come with happy events like the birth of a child. Disability can occur as a consequence of life as parents age. Disability can come crashing in through an accident or circumstance that suddenly changes everything. Disability can creep up in a genetic disorder that may present at birth or later in life.

Disability stories are as varied as the families and individuals affected by disability, but everyone has a story who lives with disability. "Disability" isn't a label nor is it a wall. "Disability" is a way of living with challenges that may look as different as any of the milions of individual affected by disability in our world.

In truth, we are all disabled or broken in various ways. That doesn't mean we all qualify for that more convenient parking place with the special sign. No! Those should be reserved and even guarded by those more able for others who need quicker or more convenient access to shopping, schools or church.

Recently my husband and I were in California visiting the famed Getty Museum with its vast art treasures and beautiful gardens. We found that our friend (who was with us, who has legs that don't work due to an accident during his birth and who gets around on a skateboard when he isn't in a wheelchair) was scolded by the guard for being there on a skateboard. It is moments like then and when I see someone very able walking away from parking a car in a spot reserved for handicapped parking that I want to roll up my sleeves and jump in with both feet to advocate for mercy and justice!

Often people with obvious or severe disabilities are marginalized or disenfranchised from normal society including the church.
  • Maybe they have a shorter attention span - so do my grandchildren and they don't fit a particular "disabled" category.
  • Maybe they make different noises to express themselves but then, so do my grandchildren.
  • Maybe they just cannot sit still and are prone to wander around in a room - so do my grandchildren!
Recently I heard an uncle tell his nephew that he was glad he didn't drink anymore since the train ran over him and that he (the uncle) had been praying for him. I was horrified both for the uncle's calloused heart and for the nephew's broken life!

Jesus met a blind man one day (John 9) who was stigmatized for his blindness as either being a result of his own sin or his parents. The general conclusion society of that day drew was that blindness was the result of God's judgement on him and his family. Jesus clearly and sharply refutes both views and says simply that the man was born blind so that God's glory could be seen in the world. God's glory seen through blind eyes - now that's a new view of disability, isn't it?

I recently read an observation by Al Condeluci, Pittsburgh human service advocate and teacher, about group homes. Condeluci said that he lived in two group home situations himself: his college dorm and a military barracks. Condeluci says he didn't enjoy either group home experience. His point was that group homes may not be the best way to deal with people profoundly affected by disability. He advocates inclusion rather than exclusion.

Condeluci observes that conditions like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome cannot be fixed. They are conditions of life. Individuals with CP or Down syndrome can be valued members of society and are wonderful friends to be included in community rather than marginalized. They have conditions that limit them in particular ways, but so do people who are overweight or very tall or very short or very young or very old.

We need to change the way we think and act toward our friends who live with life-altering disabilities. We need to see them as valued friends who can contribute much to enrich our lives when we live in community with them.

That's EXACTLY why there is A Restoration Church gathering in the South Hills of Pittsburgh! We welcome the opportunity to live, worship and grow into a caring community of grace, faith and love intentionally including individuals and families affected by disability!

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