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

Monday, February 10, 2020

Separating people with and without disabilities

When I look at ministry that includes persons with disabilities and I admit I am hypersensitive to this issue, I worry about things that we do that separate people with disabilities from people without disabilities. They can be very subtle things. Things that those particularly with intellectual disabilities may not really pick up on. Yet those of us without intellectual disabilities if we think about it, know what we are doing.

I think about this when ministries are scheduled at times when no one else from the church is present. That type of ministry conveys that it is all about serving the persons with disabilities (not necessarily a bad thing) but that they have little to offer the rest of the congregation so we needn't have them present with everyone else. If we felt they did have something to offer, we would insist that everyone was together at the same time.

Sometimes we can also treat people in an age inappropriate manner. We interact with them in ways that we as those without intellectual disabilities would likely not tolerate if we were treated that way. Yet because of our perception that they do not understand, we can treat them in that manner and for many, they will not understand what is happening to them.

Age appropriateness should be a critical consideration in any form of ministry. People can be socialized into thinking they are children and accept that treatment. I know of people with disabilities who have been socialized in this manner and are like that. People can also be socialized into thinking they are the age that they are chronologically. I know people who are like that too. They will not tolerate being treated in a way that doesn't respect them as adults. If I were to treat you in a way that doesn't respect you as an adult, according to your age, you would likely be offended. It is my desire that persons with disabilities, whatever their disability might be, would also not be separated, and not be treated in a manner that is not commensurate with the respect that they should receive according to their age.

This is a subtle consideration but very important.



Nicolette Gastelum said...

There are different types of disabilities. Instead of blaming them for doing something wrong, we should help them to understand what went wrong and help them do it correctly. The disability is a part of who the person is are and cannot change. The person with the disability should not have to change or be blamed for something that was done wrong. The hardest part of a disability is the way they are treated. For example, in 6th grade, I was always picked on by one person in my class because I was the shortest in my class because of a chromosomal condition that results in a short stature. It is who I am, and I cannot control it. Others with disabilities might be excluded because they are different or assume that they cannot do something because of the disability. Just because someone has a disability, physically or not, should not mean we treat them differently or change them. Instead, we should show support for them and treat them as equals in society. We should be encouraging and include them in social groups and church groups, like bible study. We also need to our part to help those with disabilities.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the statement that we know what we are doing when we separate people with disabilities from people without disabilities. Even though we have so much research on people with disabilities, the general population isn’t educated enough on how to treat people with disabilities, which should be simply treating them with respect and as human beings. Since many people are uncomfortable interacting with people of disabilities, we tend to exclude them from our social lives, or sometimes in every aspect of our lives. Society has even taught us to do this. The history of mental institutions and ministries separating masses have contributed to this societal view and practices.

I believe including people with disabilities, as they should be, would be very beneficial. As this post says, they have something to offer even though they have always been separated, implying that they don’t have anything to offer for the general population. As a substitute teacher, I have seen the interactions with students with disabilities and students without disabilities. About every interaction has warmed my heart in so many ways. The student without intellectual disabilities usually is a good friend of the other student with disabilities. I’ve seen these students share a fist bump, hug, and laugh, which has been the most beautiful interaction I’ve seen between two adolescents. I can tell that the interaction has made both students equally happy. The bottom line is that the interaction with people with disabilities will teach us how to treat a person with respect and will teach us how to include them more in society.

Anonymous said...

Calling my home parish and as an active parishioner I had to personally reflect about the people in our population that are disabled and why they are not present in my church. There are ramps to facilitate individuals with physical disabilities, however I rarely see individuals with disabilities participating at mass. I called my parish office and spoke to my priest and had a beautiful conversation how we accept and embrace everyone. He wants inclusion for children to do their sacraments and he facilitates parents to determine what their child can and cannot do to participate and receive communion. When I asked about adults in our community that have disabilities it seemed there is a need for volunteers to assist our brothers and sisters to join us at mass. He welcomes everyone but there is no one that currently contributes to facilitating adults with disabilities; transportation or assistance during service. There had been in the past but without an active volunteer the presence of our disabled parishioners does not exist. There is a need and a void in my church. How to fix this is changing our approach and if we are inclusive then we must commit to reach out to our disabled community and facilitate their participation and invite, welcome and provide the necessary actions that will bring them into our community. Have inclusion and not have a different mass that "serves" them exclusively because that is exclusiveness which translates to exclusion. There is work to do to be inclusive and now its motivating and changing our parish to serve everyone not just say we include but act.

Unknown said...

Good Morning Mr. McNair,

I agree with you. We should not separate people with disabilities. We should include them in all of our society's activities. They should be with us in our schools, our churches, and especially in the work place. We need to have transparency with persons with disability. We should no longer keep them in the shadows. Persons with disability should be treated as their physical age, not their intellectual age. Age appropriateness is very important and can help persons with disability "mainstream" into society easier. I feel that we can all do better as a society. I plan to include general ed students with my special ed students. Either in the classroom or out on the tennis court. Everyone will be welcomed to my class or my team. To separate is to discriminate. There is no other way to look at it.

Anonymous said...

Good Afternoon Professor McNair,
This is an issue I have a hard time wrapping my head around constantly as I am interacting with and in spaces with those with disabilities. I admit that when in my undergrad, I would think it was okay to have them separate because I assumed that they needed that space to function and I also considered their "mental age" when placing them in classrooms at church. Not only is this wrong and inappropriate but it is disrespectful to them. I am not the one who gets to determine whats best but rather I appreciate that you mention that we must treat them as we would like to be treated. If I know I am an adult, I would not appreciate someone treating me as a child. I also would not like being separated from others. I also appreciate that you mentioned that separation leads to the idea that they are not worthy of inclusion and do not have contributions to give. Thank you for your insight to this topic.This is something I constantly have to remind myself of when shifting my mindset when working with those with disabilities.

Simone Moore said...

Professor Mc.Nair.
Thank you for this post. This is an area that I have found myself struggling with in the past. When going through my undergrad, I learned about mental age and thought that was the way to approach those with disabilities. I would think that they should have their own space in order to function and thrive. From learning over the years and reading your post, I am reminded that this is not an appropriate approach to interacting with those with disabilities. This is disrespectful to them because they are not being treated appropriately. I appreciate that you mentioned separation giving off the impression that they are not needed to contribute to the larger group of people whether that be at church or within society. Separating just emphasizes that they are not equals and we do not need to be interacting with them or benefiting from their relationships. I challenge myself to be advocating to move away from isolation and separation, into a mindset of inclusion and acceptance in every area. I understand that we must treat them as we would like to be treated. If I were disabled and did not have the opportunity to participate with everyone and was approached as though I was a child, I would be sad and frustrated. I would feel left out and unimportant. That is the last way I would want someone to feel and thus I want to be sure when given the chance to say something that I would step up to show others the appropriate way to approach interacting with those with disabilities.

Anonymous said...

It's crazy to think that as a society we separate those with disabilities in our classrooms, churches and so on. We move them from interacting with everyone because many people believe it's better for them to have their own space to learn. But in reality we are not treating them how we would like to be treated. Having separate bible studies or having them come to at a different time than the rest of the congregation sends a message to them and others not part of the congregation that they may have little to offer so that is why we don't need them present. But in reality if we wouldn't like to be separated from others so why do it to them? We need to be able to interact with everyone in our society, include them in our churches and schools and not separate them because we believe thats what they need. What they need is interactions with society like all of us have and show everyone else in society that we are missing out on amazing relationships with amazing people. We as a society need to change our way of thinking because separating them or thinking we know what is best for them really isn't.

Anonymous said...

Dr. McNair,

I have to admit that I used to be guilty of this exact thing, as embarrassing as it is to admit to. While I have been able to over-come this issue of treating a person with an intellectual disability age appropriately, I have noticed that this is still a problem when I sit down in an IEP meeting. In your classes, you always talk about not having a problem making others feel uncomfortable if they should be. However, as a new teacher who hasn’t reached tenure has to be a little more careful. I find it hard sometimes to respectfully respond in a way that will not get me in trouble. It is bad enough when someone talks to a 6th grade student as if they were a pre-school aged student. However, what is worse is the expectations of that student are automatically limited by the person speaking and they begin to really think they are actually talking to a pre-school aged student. I have not been teaching for very long (only 2 years), and I quickly notice the difference in a student’s performance can dramatically change based on your expectations. So when someone walks into my classroom and talks to my students as if they are babies, it drives me crazy!

Unknown said...

Professor McNair
As I continue to learn more about the special educations school settings and advance from course to course at CBU, I see the huge gap between special education and regular education. After my first job in special education I felt more comfortable about speaking on behalf of the other side of this new world (that really isn't new). To my surprise, I found that people have little to no knowledge about disabilities and how these people live their lives. I understand why you felt the need to write about this issue. Like you mentioned, sometimes we say we are helping by having their own, but separate space for “inclusion”. But how is that including when we are physically separating our children in different classrooms when learning. Perhaps for certain academics it is best this way. But when looking at the bigger picture, if we want them to learn how to be part of the community, we also have to learn how to be part of their community. This is achieved by working together, and not separate. Treating them for who they are, and not what we think they can do. Your point about talking to them in child like manners, is something I see very often. It’s quite annoying to me because I know that what child can do and is capable of so much. I feel like when we do this, it only causes the person to shut down. It is true, we need to relook at the way we practice respect. Rethink how we are using it towards people with disabilities; are we really honoring who they are or who we think they are?
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Anonymous said...

Reading this article has been very eye opening to me, I do have to admit that I am someone who has treated someone with a disability differently than according to their age. I actually do this frequently with my nephew instead of treating him like his actual age, I tend to treat him at an age that I feel is appropriate based off of his development. I did this because in a way I thought I was being fair to him and not expecting unrealistic things from him. However, I do see how doing so may not benefit him or necessarily be helping him.
I think it is important to treat people the way you would want to be treated and after reading this article I understand now that that means by all persons even ones with disabilities. I guess my biggest fear with doing so is expecting too much from someone and causing them extra stress and anxiety. To me I want to be understanding and fair. With that I guess it’s just important that I learn to differentiate between what is something that is appropriately expected of someone even with disabilities and what is something just unrealistically outrageous.

Anonymous said...

After reading this post I realized the contribution I myself have played in this societal issue. I originally thought that it was a great idea and that it’d be beneficial for disabled individuals to have churches hold separate services but after this course and through this post I realized that it is a serious form of segregation from the rest of the church. I used to think that holding events specifically for individuals who had disabilities such as proms was a form of demonstrating to them that they are special also but now the more I reflect on this, I realize the opposite effect it actually has. Holding a prom in this way actually segregates individuals more from having typical experiences, instead of having a separate dance for just disabled individuals we as a community should encourage for them to participate in a typical prom hosted for everyone. There is no reason to separate disabled individuals from the rest of the community for an event that they could enjoy without modifications.

Furthermore, I learned that treatment according to age is important regardless of one having a disability. Though I have never had a personal encounter with anyone in which I treated them as a child, I do admit that I have noticed I haven’t always held adults with disabilities to the same expectations as nuerotypical individuals.

Ashley Dillashaw said...

I completely agree with everything stated in this post. Those with disabilities are completely segregated in not just the church, but pretty much everywhere else as well. But there is absolutely no excuse as to why the church separates those with disabilities from those without disabilities. It is so crazy to think how everyone seems to be okay with the constant separation, yet if that was us in that position we would want to be with our peers and everyone else.

I believe people should also be more educated on how to treat and talk to those with disabilities. I remember being in high school and I worked as a TA in the moderate to severe classroom and I would see other students running from the kids in the moderate to severe class when they came out with everyone at lunch. On the other hand, there would also be kids who would try their best to be nice and have a conversation, but they would speak to them like a child, when they are actually the exact same age as their peers. Some people go their entire lives without having an actual conversation with someone who is intellectually disabled and I believe that needs to change. And the only way to make that change, is to not segregate as much as we do. We need to include them in everything that the rest of the community is doing, that they would enjoy just as much as the rest of us, maybe even more.