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

Monday, February 28, 2011

The passing of Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger

It is with a sincere and great sense of loss that I share the following here. It was one of the great honors of my life to have known Dr. Wolfensberger. My prayers are with his family and friends. Please keep them in your prayers as well. Also please pray for Ms. Susan Thomas who was Dr. Wolfensberger's right hand colleague for so many years.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are saddened today to learn of the passing of Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger this past weekend. His death is a great loss to not only the thousands who embraced his research and teachings, but to the thousands whose lives have been changed by the values and principles he espoused.

Wolf Wolfensberger was made an honourary life member of Community Living Ontario in 1979 and was honoured at the conference at Queen's University that year. He was also presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2005 Community Living Conference in London, Ontario.

Wolfensberger lead the Normalization movement in North America and formulated the concepts of Social Role Valorization and Normalization. His teachings had a profound influence on the core values and principles of Community Living associations across Canada. Through his work, he shaped our beliefs about how we should support people and their families. He taught us that when people are supported to achieve socially valued roles, they inevitably develop meaningful relationships and rich lives in community. No other body of work has been as influential in shaping the way that people think and act with respect to the inclusion of people who have an intellectual disability in our society.

In 1991 Normalization was ranked as # 1 in the “Education and Training in Mental Retardation” list of 25 classic works in the field and in 2006 Exceptional Parent magazine named “the Work of Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger on the Principles of Normalization and Social Role Valorization” as one of the 7 Wonders of the World of Disabilities.

Our hearts and prayers are with his family and friends.

Dr. Wolfensberger will always be remembered for his brilliant mind and his great heart for disenfranchised and devalued people. In speaking with him you recognized you were in the presence of a great human being, someone of depth in his understanding of life. I will never forget his kindness and patience with me as I sat under his teaching on several occasions. The world has lost a significant force for good.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Some musings about a Christian model of disability

Using the social model of disability we look to the effect or the impact that the environment has on individuals. It is arguable that the environment has never been fully accepting of people who are atypical. So the change that is being advocated is not a change back to a better day but a change to a new day. So to change the environment under a social model of disability is to create something entirely new. What we are about is softening environments that people with disabilities find themselves in. What we are about is changing environments so that they do not reflect negative societal attitudes or negative historical practices towards people who have disabilities, as well as limited physical notions of what it means to be a human being.
A Christian model would be a combination of the social model and something else. The social model component of the Christian model of disability would be that the environment would change such that people with disabilities might experience of what might be called social healing. Social healing is not a change in an individual in the way one would typically think when one thinks of healing and an individual with disability. Rather, social healing implies a healing of a sick environment such that it changes in its interactions with people with disabilities. The end result is that although those with disabilities have not changed they feel as if they've changed only because the environment is different. In some ways, social healing is a permutation of the social model of disability.
In a Christian model we are not only attempting to change the social environment, we are also attempting to change the way that individuals with disabilities see themselves. A Christian model would take the traditional biblical notions of human beings and just ensure that they are applied to people who have a difference known as disability.
In summary, however, a Christian model of disability should do several things.
First, in many ways the Christian model would adopt many aspects of the social model of disability in terms of saying that much of the difficulties faced by people with disabilities are not due problems that they have within themselves as much as they are due to the way in which society, the way in which the social environment interacts with them. The second aspect of a Christian model is to understand who people are who have differences called disabilities in relation to those who are more typical. A Christian model would also rely heavily on the sovereignty of God which is a difficult thing to do. To rely heavily on the sovereignty of God is to accept oneself as one is. This acceptance of one's self is not some syrupy, paternalistic pablum. Rather it is fully loaded, with God at the center telling all people they are a reflection of who He is and how He can be seen in the way he has made them. The Christian model therefore is not saying something or creating something new in the way that people with disabilities are understood. It is merely (but powerfully) awakening all to who people with disabilities are from a biblical perspective.
A third aspect of a Christian model of disability is to understand who God is. God is in charge. God is sovereign. Things will happen in our lives which will bring us joy. Things will happen in our lives which will cause sadness and discomfort. The Christian model would accept that these things come from the hand of a loving and just God and are a part of his plan not only for individuals but also for society. This is a critical aspect of understanding the Christian model of disability because this implies that there are purposes behind the things that occur in the lives of human beings. The notion of a sovereign God who is all-powerful coupled with the experience of disability in the world can largely lead to several potential outcomes. One is that God is in control, however, our sinful condition causes things to happen in the world that God would not necessarily desire, but that he definitely did set in motion in response to human sin. A second idea is that God directly causes disability in the lives of human beings in order to accomplish his purposes. These two options both implicate God as being behind disability. Now if God is behind disability then somehow it is a part of understanding his plan for human beings. This is an important understanding because disability would then imply purpose, it implies a lack of randomness, and it implies value in disability. If God is behind the cause of disability or if God is the cause of disability it implies that there is a purpose of disability that accomplishes something that he wants to accomplish. So therefore from a Christian perspective not only does the environment need to change, not only do biblical principles related the human beings need to be applied to those with disabilities, but we must also understand that there are purposes behind the things we see occurring in the lives of people in the world. This is a very difficult notion to swallow, to understand, to accept because of the suffering that we see in the world. It is only through faith that we can come to trust God in the midst of the difficulties that we see in the world. So a critical third aspect of the Christian model of disability is to understand who God Is, understand who God is in relation to man, understand the sovereignty of God and then put these things together in a way that leads us to faith and acceptance of God's purposes in our life.
The experience of disability significantly includes problems in each of these three areas. Society does not want to change. Society wants to continue in the way that it is currently functioning. Therefore one problem of disability relates to the social consequences of disability.
Human beings who have disabilities are either taught or come to believe that they have less value that they have some negative characteristic and as a result see themselves negatively, see themselves as not as valuable which is a second aspect of problems revolving around disability.
And thirdly people with and without disabilities do not believe God do not trust God do not understand God to any extent and therefore the purpose of differences in the lives of human beings is not understood. This is the third aspect of disability that is problematic.
A Christian model therefore would say the environment (the society) needs to change, the individual needs to change in their understanding of themselves from a biblical perspective, and understandings of God and who God is in reference to the experience of human beings need to change. A combination of these three changes, in society, in individual self perception and in understanding God will result in more positive outcomes are people with disabilities as they become more integrated into the larger society. If any of these areas are not developed we will continue to see the problems that we see. If your society continues on with its negative perceptions then the experience individuals with disabilities will continue to reflect the negative social consequences of disability. If individuals with disabilities don't see themselves in the way that the Bible would portray them then they may come to understand themselves as being of limited value of having no purpose as mistakes or defects or variety of other negative understandings of themselves. Finally if the individual with disability does not understand who they are in relation to God and who God is and they potentially see their life experience as random and having no meaning.
But with an understanding of who God is, there is the potential that they see their experience more as a part of a larger plan that comes from the hand of God potentially giving meaning to their lives and their life experience.