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I missed the morning service on Sunday as was visiting a friend who lives out of London.  However when I got to the evening service and read the notice sheet, I learnt that they were dealing with the theme of "disability". I don't know how Young, our curate and the team dealt with it, but let me first of all quote what was written in the notice sheet.

Some people who have what is defined as a disability say "I have not been handicapped by my condition. I am physically challenged and differently able."We often define disability when some is disabled - mentally, physically or emotionally.  However, in those conditions sometimes people with a disability are far more able than we are. Surely none of us are perfect and all of us have some chalenge that we have to work around. 

As we are dealing with the theme of "disability" this morning what would your answer[s] be to these questions:

  • What is my attitude to people who have disabilities and
  • how do I react to them as a Christian? 
  • Are there positive sides of being disabled?
  • What does the Bible tell us about weaknesses? 
Let us take encouragement from Paul's own experience:
"When I am weak, then I am strong."

The Scripture texts for the morning service were Genesis 1:26 -31 and 1 Corinthians 12:21 - 26.

Well as I have already noted, I wasn't there to hear what Young and the team concluded but let me have a go at trying to answer these questions. 

Firstly let me commend the writer for describing it as a theme and not an issue.  For many however, it IS an issue or to put it more bluntly a problem. Also, correctly they made reference to people with disabilities instead of disabled people. This may sound like we are just being pedantic there is an important distinction to be made.

To say "a disabled person" you are making the disability the one and most important aspect of the person's existence, whereas, if you say "a person with disabilities" you are acknowledging the person as a person, and that the disability is an aspect of their lives.

So, I suppose my first answer to the question what is my attitude to people with disabilities, is that it is no different to people who do not have a disability - I treat them as a human being worthy of my respect. However, the truth is that we are affected by the fact that a person has a disability no matter how far we have advanced. People's attitudes to disability range from the downright hostile and fearful to being (I suppose too far on the other side, OVER-INDULGENT, accepting of any bad behaviour or foul language simply because the person is disabled.

I truly believe in an inclusive society and you can have a look over previous blogs where I have moaned about society not being inclusive. I think society as a general rule should be FAR more accepting and accommodating of people with disabilities. Just yesterday, I was riding a London bus to Stratford, and after the bus has stopped at one of bus stops to pick up passengers and the recorded voice said, "This bus is 97 for Stratford City. One of the passengers suddenly said as it were back to the recorded voice, "I know, that is why I am on this bus." He, not being blind, did not realise that that voice is there to assist the visually impaired (and those who cannot read). The irony was, I saw he was wearing two hearing aids.

Inclusiveness is more than adapting buildings to give access to people who use wheelchairs, or providing signs in braille or a sign-language interpreter to help those who are hearing-impaired. It means each and every one of us reaching out to make a person with a disability feel like they can be involved with whatever we are doing, and taking their needs and wants into consideration when planning activities even as a group of friends. It is getting them involved in the planning as much as possible and allowing them to make valuable contributions in plans for others.

Earlier this year, Jill preached about hospitality being a very important theme in the Bible. Well, as a Christian, I suppose I could ask how hospitable are we to people with disabilities. Are we a disability friendly fellowship? If your answer to that is yes, that is really great, but ask yourself, what steps can we take to make it even more disability friendly? I am currently learning British Sign Language - I'm on level two now. I do not say that to boast, but I truly hope to one day reach the capability level to be able to interpret preaching in Church so that I can invite people who rely on BSL to enjoy the service and be able to participate. I look forward to the day when every Church will have signers as an integral part of their team.

One way to improve our attitudes and responses to the needs of people with disabilities is to increase out knowledge. When a missionary goes to a foreign country to share the Gospel, part of their training is to learn about the people they will be working with. They spend months learning the local language, and cultural mores, such as their customs, the way they dress, and the foods they eat.

If we want to make people with disabilities feel more welcome, an understanding of the disabilities that affect them will be a good step in the right direction.

One area that causes people most anxiety is how to respond to people with learning disabilities or difficulties. The term itself is unfamiliar to many. I am talking about people who, in the old way of speaking, were retarded. That is, their intellect, their thinking and their ability to learn either developed at a very much slower rate than people of their own chronological age, or stopped developing so that intellectually and behaviourally they are like a person much younger than someone of their age. This problem is most pronounced in adults, and it can be a hard thing when you see an adult person acting like a child. It certainly is not very cute. People with Down Syndrome have Learning Disabilities as are people with some forms of Autism (though not all.) Some people with Cerebral palsy can be affected by learning difficulties, but this is not a universal feature of people cerebral palsy.

I would like to debunk some stereotypes and stigmas surrounding people with learning difficulties, if I may.
1) They are not "mad". And they are not generally dangerous. If they are younger, it is quite safe for you to let your children play with them and they are likely to enter into the games they play with full commitment and enthusiasm. It would not be wise to leave them unattended but you wouldn't leave your child in the care of another child or an adult you didn't know very well, would you? If your child is old enough to understand, explain that the person has a disability that means that the act a bit different to other children/teenagers/adults. Remind them of basic rules like they cannot go outside without permission, etc. And then let them play. Remember that the person with learning disabilities may need more time to process a new idea and make allowances for this. If you think things are getting out of hand, remove children from the immediate locality, if possible. Always be guided by the person who is that person's carer.

2) Do not talk about the individual in the individual's presence as if they were not there. If necessary, phrase whatever you need to say in a way that is including them in the conversation even if you think they will not understand what they are hearing. There is a misconception that people with learning difficulties are STUPID. This is certainly not the case, for though they may not understand everything you say, they certainly are very good at picking up negative vibes and nastiness. They are also very good at reading body language (glances in their direction, and devices such as spelling words you don't want to utter (you never know, they might be good spellers))

3) DO NOT SET THEM UP FOR RIDICULE OR TO BE EMBARRASSED and where this happens (outside of your control) try to minimise the effect. For example, the person with learning difficulties accidentally wets or soils their pants during a service. The reaction of some people might be to hold their nose or look at the person in disgust. Some might make disparaging comments. It would be good if an adult of the same gender (assuming their is no carer who would normally deal with these things), quickly take the person by the hand and get them to the nearest toilet. Then, with the help of a second adult (for safeguarding purposes, no-one should enter a toilet with or attend to intimate personal care of a child or vulnerable adult on their own) should help the person clean themselves up and help them calm down if they are distressed. This aspect of minimising embarrassment is extremely important as the negative impact of such an experience can be very long lasting.

Often people with learning difficulties LOVE TO PERFORM and often display a confidence that way surpasses their skill in performing. Church services often provide a great platform for them to perform. It may be, for instance, that during a family service a group of children might stand at the front to sing a song. You might notice, that in the group is a child who might be quite a bit older than the others, and/or whose abilities to harmonise or remember or the words, is not quite there. it might be beneficial, in such circumstances, for the leader of the service to say something like this.

"Now the ----------- group are going to sing a song for us. For visitors to our service today, this group is comprised of children/people of different ages and abilities (different abilities - in this case is code for disabled) I am sure you will enjoy their singing and give them the deserved encouragement."

As usual I have not said everything i wanted to and time is running out, so I am going to put this up, and maybe add some more later. Please feel free to comment on this blog.



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