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

Monday, March 07, 2005

Preparing for acceptance

A light came on for me recently about the role of Christian special educators in the lives of persons with disabilities. As special educators, they are in the business of teaching students a variety of skills. These range from academic to social and other skills which will allow a person to be successful as an adult. But they also have another unique opportunity. They can work to soften the receiving environment, particularly the church, into which Christian children and hopefully others with disabilty will be received.

Those who work with adults, particularly those with developmental disabilities are constantly on the lookout for ways to successfully integrate these adults into the community. An important means for integration which I have advocated is the local church. Christian special educators, therefore, have the opportunity to work to develop skills in their students during the week, and soften the chruch environment persons with disabilities on the weekends. They can work both ends of the spectrum. As teachers, they also have the potential to provide the link to children with or without disabilities in their interactions with parents. They might suggest to parents that they study church programs in the area in order to see if that might be an avenue for the further inclusion of their children with disabilities. Teachers might even use some of the ideas I have written about (for example http://www.jeffmcnair.com/CSRD/localchurch.htm or http://www.jeffmcnair.com/CSRD/networks.htm ) as a way to introduce parents to the importance of networks in helping persons with disabilities to be integrated into the community.

However, in order to have sufficient receiving church networks which reflect the diversity of Christian denominations, it is incumbant on Christian special education teachers to work within their own church to soften it toward persons with disability. How does one soften an environment toward persons with disability? Well, you might start a little class for developmentally disabled adults on Sunday mornings. That's how my wife Kathi and I started at our church. Or, you might invite a student with disabilities to church and act as her buddy throughout the day as she moves through Sunday school classes or the worship service. Perhaps you ask your pastor if you can start a ministry where a group of people go to a group home once a month to play card games with the adults with disabilities who live there. Over time those folks might find there way to the church itself. I think an important part of changing someone or an organization like the church is keeping the issue in front of them. Over time they become more acclimated and they begin to soften. They see you interacting with a group of people and think, "that doesn't look to difficult" and then they give it a try themselves. Maybe you can even convince a music pastor to allow a person with disaibility who happens to be a good singer to sing before the congregation. Such structured opportunities to stare at the person with disabilties are very helpful in breaking down the stigma of the disability.

My wife and I have had great success in intereviewing adults with mental retardation before university classes that we teach. People who are even in special education teacher training programs say it is a "life changing" experience as they have never had that opportunity before (actually they have never taken the time to have that experience before). These types of interactions change the people who reflect the environment. If enough of the people are changed, the environment changes. A changed environment would be one which would be prepared to accept the students with disabilities that the special education teacher is training.

Without the efforts of special education teachers, case workers, and other Christian professionals working in areas of disability, the Church environment will not change and much of the efforts of special education teachers with their children will be in vain as there is no place in the community where adults with disability can be truly integrated.

So I have come to the point of thinking that a critical part of the work of a Christian special education teacher is to work in the environment of her own church. If we as Christians do the work we should do to prepare the environment, I guarantee that secularists will recognize the change and independent of their personal perspective on religiom, will on some level will have few options other than to send adults with disabilities to us, to the church because of the benefits the adults with disability are receiving: benefits that those who are secularist will be hard pressed to emulate in any environment other than a local church.

McNair (from cbu)

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