Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Disability natives vs. Disability immigrants

In his article, "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" (from On the Horizon, NCB University Press, Vol. 9, No. 5, October 2001) Marc Prensky makes the distinction between what he calls digital natives and digital immigrants
"But the most useful designation I have found for them is Digital Natives. Our students today are 'native speakers'of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet. So what does that make the rest of us? Those of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the net technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital Immigrants" (p. 1-2).

I think this distinction might be applied in a similar way to the world of disability. Throughout history, societies have always seemed to be disability immigrants. We seem to be always surprised by people affected by disability. Children are born to us with a disability and we have no experience with them. People with disability come to church and we have no experience with them. People with disability enter the community and we have no experience with them. It seems individuals, families, communities and the church are constantly in the beginning stages of a learning curve. In spite of thousands of years of people being born with disabilities or being affected by disability later in their lives, we are consistently surprised by them and like a 30 year old sitting in front of a computer for the first time are totally lost.

But Christians, all Christians should be disabiltiy natives. This should not be the case for Christians. This should not be the case for the Christian church. The simple act of someone attending any Christian church should result in their becoming a "disability native" because the presence of people with disabilities there would be expected, kinda boring really in the same manner that the presence of children, or college students, or old people is kinda expected, kinda boring, kinda typical.
Before I had children I had a pretty good idea of what children were like because I was in places where children were. I saw them at church or in the community. I am a native when it comes to children.

I am confident that people who are new to disability enjoy their interactions with those who have experience with people with disabilities. Not to brag, but I am sure that I calm people who are new parents when I enter their orbit. I have a pretty good idea of educational ideas that should work. I have a pretty good idea of behavioral issues they will face. I even have a decent notion of what the future will probably look like for that individual based upon years of experience. I am not too bothered by disabled children with behavior problems. I am not a disability native, but I have been an imigrant for a very long time.

My prayer for the church is that we will raise generations of disability natives. People who are not afraid, or ashamed, or have goofy ideas about the why's of disability theologically. People with experience. People who are undaunted by just about anything that a person with a disability might do intentionally or otherwise. A church full of disability natives would be a softened environment for all. An environment that is relentlessly accepting of individual differences. My social faux pas would be more readily overlooked because the presence of people with social skill deficits would make the social environment less rigid. As I said softer, more accepting of difference. It is universal design applied to social relationships. The result of accepting people with social skill deficits is that I experience greater acceptance as well.

In the public schools today, there is some degree of disability native development. At least I can hardly go to public school without seeing other students with disabilities although I may not have meaningful social integration resulting in relationships with them.

But how I wish that were the case in the church.

Look at a youngster playing deftly with his hand held video game. He does it effortlessly as if he were born with the game in his hands.

Imagine a youngster playing deftly with his friend with disabilities. Imagine an adult at coffee with his friend with disabilities. The conversation flows effortlessly, speech impediments overlooked as if they did not exist. They do it fluently, smoothly, NATURALLY! Because it is natural for them. They are Christians who have grown up in a church, which means they are disability natives! Imagine.


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