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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Segregation of persons with disabilities

I was recently in a meeting where I was sharing about the importance of people being fully integrated into the church. Change in church culture begins with presence. See a discussion of this here.
One parent of an adult son spoke up. I will paraphrase the person, but the comment was basically, "I want segregation! Segregation is the best thing for my son!" When I pushed back gently, the response was, "I want a place (referring to a segregated ministry that meets once a month on a week night) where no one will look at my son as if he is different. I want a place where he will be accepted. So that is why I want segregation."
I responded that "If there are places where your son experiences that kind of treatment, I can understand why you would feel that way. However, how will those places ever change if there is not integration?"
If the person's son is always segregated and is never in contact with other members of the community, then his presence will always be strange because his presence is unusual. However, should that same son be regularly in the mix with everyone else, he will become familiar and hopefully invited to friendship with others. Persons with disabilities are actually very common members of our community unless we isolate them from the community. We make people who are just people seem strange by the social isolation we impose upon them and we shouldn't do that.
Should people fear integrating family members, particularly those with severe disabilities into the community? I can see their concerns, particularly if people have experienced some form of discrimination or poor treatment in the past. It is our natural reaction to protect ourselves or our children. But at the same time, change in our communities will never occur if people are segregated. It is only presence that will lead to cultural change in how we do things. This is true in the church when our traditional ways of doing things can get in the way of the changes that need to occur for integration to take place.
Arguably, the very first step in cultural change is presence. Let's do all we can to facilitate the presence and then model the acceptance that we endeavor to see.



Anonymous said...

This post was very eye opening! Thank you for sharing Dr. McNair! I believe we are all created in the image of God and no disability, race or status should matter when loving our neighbor. One should want the presence of people with disabilities in their life. It is an honor to have someone so genuine and loving as a friend. I have a friend with down syndrome he just turned 19, so we went for breakfast to Denny's. The waiter treated him the same as everyone else, he got special treatment and the waiter even put strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream for free on his plain pancakes. He ordered my food for me, I let him use my card to pay on his own. Although he was not verbally able to communicate, people understood him and yes we got looks from multiple people, but I praised him for his smile and excitement to be in public. People with disabilities do not judge, do not hold grudges, and smile to those even ignorant to acknowledge them. As people in the community we should include not exclude and it is sad to hear this mom want to segregate her son, but I also think that the more exposure he has to the community the more people will accept that he is also part of it. It is beautiful to see their smile of appreciation for the simple things.

Anonymous said...

Those are very good points when said that we need to have presence within our community for all people, and like what was mentioned “the very first step in cultural change is presence”. That being said, I have no idea what it is to be a parent (although I am expecting soon), but I would imagine that the parent was trying to shield their son from certain looks or forms of discrimination that was probably happening at their church. I do sympathize with the parent, and maybe they wanted to protect their son without being in the spotlight. Let’s not forget that while we in the community want the best for those who have disabilities, that is our choice. The parent in this instance may have not had the choice if they wanted to be part of this community or not, so they might not be willing to be the one who makes the first step of simply being present with their son at their church. While we would like all people in the community to be strong advocates, not everybody is willing or even ready to be one. I hope and pray that God gives that parent the courage and understanding to be the person who makes a difference at their church when it comes to inclusion of all people within the congregation. Hopefully by taking these first steps there would be no need for a monthly meeting during the week for this ministry.