“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.

Anonymous said...

I fully understand why parents would want their children placed in segregated classrooms. Kids can be extremely mean about what they do not understand. However, if the students were to be taught and made aware about disabilities then there would be more understanding amongst the disabled and non-disabled within society. The point made about never becoming integrated if there is segregation is a strong one. If these kids are not given the opportunities to get used to someone with a disability in their classes then they will never become familiar and never understand. Some kids are simply just mean, but most simply do not understand and cannot see the entire picture for what it is. That is why it is important for society to educate young people on various forms of disabilities and a great first pathway towards that education is through integration. Unless a student has a learning disability or some disability that hinders their ability to learn, then they should be integrated within general education classrooms. If they are mentally capable then they should be given the opportunities to showcase that capability.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the point of view that Dr. McNair is explaining. How can we, as a community become used to differences between us if we are always segregated. Not only children with disabilities but everyone else like those who speak another language and have a separate time for service. Also, I do understand the point of view of the parents because I can only imagine how much trauma the family as a whole has experienced. I do believe that the church also has an influence in the way the family feels at church because they should make them feel as welcomed as possible. Through their actions and showing Gods love, that God does not make exceptions regardless of the person we are he still loves us, I believe the family will be able to heal. It is sad to hear the type of struggles these family face, not only in church but also in a daily basis. All I hope is that these families can make a change in the way everyone interacts with individuals with disabilities.

Anonymous said...

Based on my personal experience I, unfortunately, have seen segregation, especially in the education setting. Students with disabilities are segregated from their general education peers for the sole purpose it might upset the general education parents. This is my opinion is not right. I agree that how can we make changes with people with disabilities if we continue to segregate. I understand where this parent is coming from because seeing her child being segregated probably is not the greatest feeling. I know it may be hard, but we need to push for all to be equal and be together this makes our bond and children of god stronger. Welcoming one another is something that is in the bible. We shall love thy neighbor. Not one is better than the other. We need to push for change and inclusion amongst a variety of different community areas. A large reason why I wanted to be an educator for children with disabilities was a big part I want them to feel the love and comfort that every person should feel. A lot of the time family, friends, and people, in general, treat people with disabilities different. The change starts now and we must push for segregation to be a thing of the past.

Anonymous said...

I definitely agree that a change in church culture in the manner by which they minister to disabled person begins with their presence and inclusion as a point for emphasis. If we create a segregated environment for disabled persons it defeats the purpose of their inclusion in the first place. Integration within community is an integral resource for those with disabilities to grow and prosper. Interaction with able community members allows those disabled members to prosper through socialization, which is a key factor in their ability to grow and engage the environment around them. To say that segregation is the answer to protecting disabled people from judgement is an inherently ill-conceived notion of the goals and purpose of congregation by definition. If judgement of disabled does occur in this environment, I agree that segregation would impede progress for change and the overall engagement of these people in a way that engages them to flourish. Isolating disabled people from this environment seems counterintuitive to the benefits that community involvement would bring them. I know one of the many issues that families of disabled people experience is judgement from others, but to say that excluding them from the general population of church members undercuts many of the primary objectives that congregations attempt to accomplish.

Kirsten Redden said...

That is such a hard topic for that poor mother and son, she is correct, it is so much safer to not include her son in the inclusion movement because they would avoid being the guinea pigs of this powerful movement. But is that what is best for her son? To not include him and keep him comfortable in not being included, assuming he will be the odd one out for the rest of his life? It is a scary thing being a part of a culture movement, to demand that she puts her son as well as herself through something that has been so damaging in the past is going to be hard. It is amazing that you have been able to facilitate this conversation to many people that share her opinion on it being more harmful than helpful, and really encourage them to demand inclusion. It is not always beneficial to take the easy way out, this movement needs people like you to be an advocate and provide them with support. I hope that with how many people you are reaching as a professor and in the various communities you are involved in you can create even more advocates for this community and give them their place in the church!