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

Thursday, February 04, 2016

"Being seen"

I had the privilege of hearing Katherine and Jay Wolf on Tuesday. They are an amazing couple with a website, and a book http://www.hopeheals.com/#welcome . I would recommend you go there and read the book.

Their presentation about their life experience was amazing, filled with trials subdued by hope. As they have come to understand disability, they made a point about a realization that had come to them. Basically it is that people with disabilities need to "be seen." It is a very basic starting point, but it is easy to understand that it is the beginning of everything. If I see you, you are in my presence and I am no longer avoiding you, at least on some level. If I see you, I begin to enter into your experience, understand a bit about what your life is like. Particularly in the case of individuals with disabilities, I am no longer sheltered from you. I can no longer say, "I didn't know" when someone describes your life experience. Being seen has the potential to be the beginning of manythings.

If people with a particular characteristic are not being seen, that leads to other, potentially negative outcomes. I remember the joke, "What the eye doesn't see, the cook gets away with!" That is, who knows what goes on in a kitchen when no one is watching. Well, what the eye doesn't see, human services gets away with. What the eye doesn't see, group homes get away with. We are often aghast at what people will record on video cameras. But the take home from that is not just that someone was caught doing something, but that the kinds of things that are not seen have been going on all of the time because people are not seen. Don't hear me wrong. I am not advocating increased video surveillance or the use of technology to in some way moniter people. Quite the opposite.

What I would advocate is that you see people with disabilities in your life and advocate that others see them as well. You have the ability to facilitate that by what you do. If I take someone out for lunch, I facilitate them being seen in the community. This is not always easy, though, as much of human services are a barrier to the friendships between people that would allow this to occur. But it is not just human services.

How well is your church doing in ensuring people with disabilities are being seen in a variety of Christian community contexts? Sometimes ministries can be so segregated, it is almost as if those in them are spirited in and out, with no opportunity for interactions with others in the environment. I don't think this is right. I am also not saying that people with disabilities should be put on display somehow. Rather, if they, like everyone else, are simply in the enviornment, singing songs, drinking coffee, listening to teaching, they become like everyone else. I guess "being seen" is a simple test for a level of being integrated.

Are people with disabilities being seen at your church? It is a simple test for integration. If people are being seen, that is a good starting point for many good things that could grow out of that.



Karen Jackson said...

I completely agree. Ever since starting to take my daughter (with more severe autism) into the sanctuary at church several years ago, I realized how many people are moved just to see her. With awareness efforts (because the issues with autism are not always obvious), people of the congregation are affected by her presence. Members of the congregation demonstrate this in different ways. Many smile at both of us, sometimes someone will even have tears in their eyes, because they understand the long journey we have been through to participate and be included in Mass. They also see how intense and focused my daughter is when she takes Communion. Yes, we need to make sure individuals affected by disability are seen everywhere in our community...especially our faith communities.

Unknown said...

After reading your blog, I can definitely agree with you. As long as people with disabilities are not advocated or are seen, how are people in their community and churches going to get to know them and understand their lifestyle. In order for people to become aware of people with disabilities they need to be out in public places such as church, shopping centers, and restaurants. I have seen in my church that they provide a separate small room in the back for children who may be disruptive or create attention to themselves. This is consider neglect, and there is no way they will be seen this way. The more we integrate adults and children with disabilities, the more the people in our communities become aware of their life and they will “be seen.” A couple days ago I went to Costco and as I parked a car pulled up next to me with a lady and her daughter. Her daughter had Autism, seeing that she had a bumper sticker on the back of her car. I saw the lady walk into the store proudly with her daughter. She held her hand the whole time she shopped, while she showed everyone around what a well advocate she was for her daughter. Many time parents would rather leave their children at home, but instead of keeping their children at home, they should take them out to show people around that it is okay for people with disabilities to be seen and as long as they're being seen, it is a great start for integration.