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

Monday, March 17, 2008

Alarmed by numbers

I have been preparing a portion of a class for a certificate program that is being offered by the Joni and Friends organization. Should be good. I am talking about "intro to disability" Steve Bundy (their Christian Institute on Disability director) is talking about "the church and disability" and Kathy McReynolds (the CID policy person) is teaching about "bioethics and disability". Taken together is should be interesting. If you are interested in the certificate program, you should go to the Joni and Friends website to find out more.

Anyway, in the process of preparing, I have been looking through some historical issues related to disability in general, in the US. It is interesting that around the turn of the century, the early 1900's, that people became alarmed at what appeared to be a sudden rise in the numbers of people with disabilities. This apparent sudden rise was at least in part due to the fact that IQ tests had just been developed and used on large groups of people, institutions had been started promising rehabilitation and even cures for persons with severe disabilities so that people were coming forward in large numbers to receive services, as well as the urbanization of American society, such that people who had been doing fine in a rural setting, were not faring as well in an urban setting. Anyway, those and other factors, led to an apparent sudden rise in the number of people with disabilities who were coming to the attention of the general public. It was not a real rise in the actual numbers of people with disabilities, it was just that those who had been hidden in the past were coming out of the shadows and being seen for the first time.

As I think through this historical reaction to people with disabilities, I wonder whether there might be a similar reaction within the church. That is, people with various disabilities have largely been excluded from the church, or the church has not made the effort to reach out to them. Imagine if the numbers of people with disabilities in the community suddenly came forward to take their place in the average local church. If a church of 1,000 suddenly had 90 people with severe disabilities, and 200 people with disabilities overall, would they react thinking that either they were singled out as the place where people with disabilities choose to go, or would they think there was a sudden epidemic in their area in disability as indicated by the numbers who were coming to their church. I doubt they would recognize the fact that 9% of our population has severe disabilities, and the fact that 20% overall of our population have a disability is just a reflection of US census figures for our country.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard from people, "I just didn't know" when told about people with disabilities in the community. "I didn't know they were there." "I never thought about it."

So imagine if those who have never thought or didn't know were suddenly faced with a church of which 20% of the congregation was diabled in some way. How might they react? I suspect they would in fact react, and probably in a negative way.

One of the things we who are in the know a bit about disability can start to do, is to share with congregational leaders, to share with people we know, to share with anyone who will listen at church that 20% of our population is disabled, and 9% are severely disabled in order to prepare them for the coming of people with disabilities to church. In this way when they do, LORD WILLING, arrive, we will not be alarmed, but will rather be thinking, we knew they would be here eventually. We had heard that they were out there, but just hadn't come to church yet.



Mark said...

I am interested in the idea that it was the combination of urbanizing America and the introduction of intelligence measurements that, in part, contributed to increased awareness of the existence of a disabled population in our community.

I wonder how advances in technology will, in the immediate future, effect people who have a hard time using technology already in use, and the more ubiquitous presence of technology to come.

Will persons unable to adapt to these advances become the vanguard of a new category of disability?

I was messing around with a computer this week that was operating on Vista. It freaked me out! The buttons are not where they are on my Windows XP! I was lost! I think I can figure Vista out, but I am stressed by these changes.

Living on a farm, in Indiana, in 1904, my ability to form a bail of hay, milk the cow, and plough a straight row would have been marketable skills. In New York I might be in trouble if I can't figure out how to get across town, work a pneumatic drill, or use the escalator to do my hod carrier job building one of those new fangled skyscrapers.

What will happen to me if technological advances make me incompetent to perform the skills needed to leave a normal life in the very near future?

My Mom, soon to be 80, does things with her email and computer, that are far beyond my skills. My wife's Mom, 84, doesn't use an answering machine on her phone because she can't make it work.

We are approaching an age where technological competence will be as important a life skill as reading or mobility is now.

I believe the Church needs to anticipate future changes and prepare itself for future "epidemics" of disability. The essence of humanity hasn't changed in 10,000 years. The requirements for full participation in society shift daily.

The Church must effort to make inclusion and acceptance the standard by which we judge ourselves.

Anonymous said...

It is true unfortunately, that many people have those reactions to the numbers of disabled people. It is too bad that Church of all places reacts negatively toward having disabled people in their congregation. You would think that Church would be more welcoming but yet you hear that they do not have a place for them in their church. God made all people including the disabled and everyone has a right to worship and love God and learn about God being that He is our creator. It should not matter if you have a physical disability or a cognitive disability there should always be a place for EVERYONE within the church. It is hard to hear that people are amazed by the percentage and statistics of disabled people, they don’t know that but they know which celebrities have “hooked up” and which ones are pregnant or went to jail. People waste their time on pointless statistics such as those but do not take the time to learn or care about people with disabilities as though celebrities are more important to them. It is a very sad world and I wish people were more informed. Maybe someday people will have enough compassion for others including those with disabilities and not look at it as though they don’t have room or time for them.

Crystal Foppe said...

Most individuals with disabilities are invisible to the public. Anything society considers out of "their norm" is abnormal, scary, and most of the time stigmatized.

Before working in special education I did not realize the large and still growing number of children with disabilities. It seemed like an epidemic to me; that so many children were being diagnosed with autism and mild mental retardation.

Most people, myself included, do not see reality until it personally affects them. I don't fully understand why different has to be scary and bad in societies eyes.

Unfortunately, people with disabilities are viewed as damaged goods without human senses; this is how a lot of ignorant people see them. They don't realize that they too are humans with needs, wants, desires and families who love them. I know that a disability is not a death sentence, yet, people view the disabled as the living dead, as if they are contagious.

The church should be the one place where EVERYONE can come together to teach, worship and love. However, it seems that church is the home for discrimination. How can this be? No one bothers to stand up and speak their mind about the wrong doings; instead, they sit quietly so they won't be discriminated against.

Since the beginning of time, DIFFERENT has always meant discrimination. I fear that it will never change, i just pray that it does.

I see how some people look at disabled children then turn and shake their heads; as if to say that the child did something wrong for being born disabled. It makes me angry, but I know that I cannot change the world.