“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Friday, May 20, 2016

Seeing disability as the change in me

In other places on this blog, I have discussed the question, "What is disability?" I often will settle on saying that it is a combination of the medical model, characteristics of individuals and the social model characteristics of environments. Therefore, when I endeavor to address disability with interventions, I will try to help people with impairments to improve their skills, abilities, etc. and I will attempt to change environments such that they are not discriminatory against people who have the characteristic called impairment.
As I have thought through these effort to address disability, it occurs to me, particularly in the context of ministry, that when my work to address disability changes me, I have experienced success in changing the impact of disability. We often look for changes in individuals (they understand something, or have improved in some way for example as the result of special education) or changes in the larger social environment (such that it is less discriminatory or more willing to embrace integration, etc.). However, an equally relevant evidence of successfully addressing "disability" is the change that is seen in the change agent himself.
If I am more friendly, or tolerant or loving as a result of my efforts, I have experienced success in addressing disability in an individual or group.
Clearly, if our interventions only result in changes in the individual with the impairment, we are not fully addressing disability as defined above. Equally true is that if we only intervene to change the environment and do not work to assist someone with impairments to maximize their potential, we are also not fully addressing disability. However, it encouraging to note that the changes I see in myself are at the very least a small measure of my success in addressing disability.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why secular human services needs the church.

When disability experts try to explain what disability is, they may use two models of disability: the medical model and the social model.

The medical model tends to see disability as a characteristic of an individual. So those in special education, or rehabilitation or other fields, including medicine, see a characteristic of an individual and attempt to improve the person's life who has that characteristic. In special education, for example, innovative methods for teaching reading have been developed to maximize a student's reading ability who might have difficulty learning to read. There is nothing wrong with these kinds of approaches. The problem sometimes comes when disability is seen as exclusively a characteristic of individuals.

The social model basically says that disability is discrimination. That is, I have a characteristic called impairment (whether physical, intellectual, etc.) and because of that characteristic, I am treated with discrimination by the social environment.

In thinking about how to address disability via interventions of one sort or another, it seems that human services (education, social work, rehabilitation, etc.) tend to focus almost exclusively on medical model strategies. They work to improve my skills, or my health or other things related to me personally. It is rare if at all that there are social model interventions undertaken. Let's think that through for a minute.

Imagine we have two individuals. One is the a person who is living in society, but they have no religious interest or are not participating in any kind of religious group. The other person is someone who has a religious interest and does participate in a Christian church of some flavor. How would one attempt to develop social model interventions aimed at diminishing discrimination in each person's social group?

For the individual who does not participate in a religious group, this becomes somewhat difficult. First of all, in which social settings would they find some form of integration? These are limited at best. If I were to attempt some form of intervention to reduce discrimination, it would have to be with the larger community, or city or even state or nation. It is no wonder that these types of interventions are rarely undertaken by human service providers. They are hugely daunting. It may actually be that human services are so medical model based that there is little effort to first of all even work toward community integration or understand what it is (visit this article for more on this), and second address social model issues. So there is probably less awareness over discrimination related to clients being in the community.

For the individual who does participate in a religious group, a Christian church, the foci for intervention is much more easily determined. If the church is comprised of 1000 members, for example, I can work within that social setting to mitigate discrimination which might be occurring. I can talk with leaders of the group, trying to help them to understand the discrimination that persons with impairments experience, give them strategies to reduce that on just a logical basis, or on the basis of the scriptures they state as underlying their religious practices. In other words, there are many options I might follow to work to reduce discrimination. I have worked doing these types of interventions with some degree of success.

I think the take home lesson of this is first that social model interventions are not occurring because human service providers envision a life for persons with disabilities that apparently does not include community integration based only on observable interventions they engage in. Second, religious/church involvement puts the possibility of social model interventions on the table in an easily employed manner.

Those in human services should seek the opportunity for church involvement for those they serve for a variety of reasons. But one of the most important is the ability to develop and implement social model interventions which would lead to community integration and attenuated discrimination toward those with impairments.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Things I learned but was never taught - Presence

I have been thinking a lot about presence. How the presence of persons with particularly severe disabilities changes those around them. Clearly social environments are not the same with or without a person with a severe disability in that environment. I suspect we choose to not have the environment that develops as a result of having the person with the severe disability in it based on the preponderance of environments that I have found myself in. But I also find that when I am in those environments with those people I learn things. It is not like coming to one of the classes that I teach where I discuss lessons from a particular reading, or try to teach my graduate students something. The learning comes from people who actually evidence little interest or understanding of the fact that they have the ability to be teachers to those around them. I have learned so much in those types of settings. But such learning is not at all unique to me.

It was Henri Nouwen who described Adam, a man with severe intellectual disabilities for whom he acted as a caretaker as "my friend, my teacher, my spiritual director, my counselor, my minister." You might read those words and dismiss them thinking, "What a nice thing to say about someone" particularly someone with a disability who has been devalued by most of society. "He is trying to bring dignity to someone who doesn't have any" you might think. But it is not a sweet thing to say about someone, it is the truth. If one submits oneself to such relationships and one is paying attention, there are so many things that are learned. As in the title of this posting, they are things learned which were never taught.

We learn things about society, we learn things about ourselves. We also learn things about the person with the disability if we give sufficient time to learn them. Once again it is about presence. Presence changes things, it reveals things. I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog about how the presence of a man beaten and left for dead revealed the character of those around him in the story of the Good Samaritan. It is that kind of learning.
"What will I be willing to do in such a situation?" I learn about myself.
"How will the enviornment change when people who have not been integrated experience full integration?" I learn about the social enviornment, be it the church or other social settings.
"Do I love my neighbor?" A challenging neighbor will reveal that to me.
"Do we as a church love our neighbor?" A challenging neighbor also reveals the heart of those in the larger environment.

Once again there is no effort typically on the part of the person with the disability to teach anybody anything. But the lesson is there and the possibility of learning is there.

Will we allow, no, will we facilitate the potential for this type of learning to occur?

Monday, March 07, 2016

The Church and Disability 2: The Weblog disabledChristianity

The Church and Disability 2 is the latest collection of blog postings from the disabledChristianity weblog. It is gleanings from the past 5 years in a single volume. It includes many of the ideas that readers have told me that they have been stimulated by and have enjoyed interacting with over the years. It is available by clicking on the cover image or from Amazon. It will shortly also be available in a Kindle format.

New Book from Jeff McNair

Jeff McNair

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Neglecting a human being right in front of us

I will at times read books about the church or Christian behavior. I am currently reading a book about the church. It always strikes me how writers can put forward convicting principles but seem to totally miss the connection to people whom society has devalued due to their impairment or disability. They will, for example, be very convicting about those who live in poverty (as in the quote below) but seem to be totally unaware and complicit in the treatment or exclusion of those with disabilities, not seeing the connection with that group of devalued people. Here for example is a quote from a book I am reading at the moment.

Moreover, the rich man in Luke 16 is damned because he ignores poor Lazarus at his gate. His sin is a sin of omission. But this omission is more than a general failure to "do more" or "do enough." His extravagant wealth makes him blind to the needs right in front of him. As John Schneider puts it:

The strong obligation-generating power is in the immediate moral proximity of someone in dire need. What makes the behavior of the rich people in these parables so very hideous and damnable is not that they had wealth, or even that they enjoyed it. It is that they did so, like the rich in Amos, in spiritual obliviousness to grievous human suffering that was as near to them, in the moral sense, as it could be. It was not merely that they neglected "the poor," but that they neglected a human being in need directly in front of them.

Lazarus, not the poor in abstract, was the rich man's test, and the rich man failed.
(John. R Schneider, the Good of Affluence: Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 178). (Above quote from, DeYoung, K. & Gilbert, G. What is the missio of the church? (Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2011).

There is no real mention of persons with disabilities, at least thus far, in describing the mission of the church. They talk about people groups, and the notion of "social justice" in a very general sense. They also make comments or glean and share quotes such as the above. Look at the last sentence of the second paragraph above. "It is that they did so, like the rich in Amos, in spiritual obliviousness to grievous human suffering that was as near to them, in the moral sense, as it could be. It was not merely that they neglected "the poor," but that they neglected a human being in need directly in front of them." That is the experience of many people who have experienced social isolation, and the practice of many churches and members of the Christian community towards persons with disabilities. Human beings in need, directly in front of us, are neglected. They are too much trouble, or they are off putting because of their social skills, or whatever other reason. Additionally, we feel no need to change our behaviors.
Oh that God would open all of our minds such that we would love our neighbors. Oh that we would see those people directly in front of us. They are in the community, everywhere. What if we made the effort to put them in front of us of our Christian community. Our leaders have given us an excuse for not doing anything by not putting people in need in front of us. I guess it is up to us to seek those people out, bring them into our social circles, and further remove the excuses which have been plaguing us.