Disability Issues and The Church: Sesame Street, Speechless, or Sunday School Does the church change society or does society change the church?

Thanks to PBS’s Sesame Street for introducing Julia, a Muppet with Autism to promote a better understanding of individuals on the Autism Spectrum. The 2016-17 ABC Entertainment lineup rolled out ‘Speechless’ a sitcom with a central character with CP by the name of JJ played by an actor with Cerebral Palsy.
Meet Julia, a Muppet with Autism

It is with great sadness that there is not more Christian involvement in promoting acceptance and inclusion of individuals with disabilities in society as a whole. It seems all too often, churches find themselves very involved in establishing and promoting a special needs ministry for families of special needs children.  Operative words here, families and children. I must say I find amusement in this approach to the disabilities by believers.  Yes, special needs ministries are much needed and welcomed. Families do need support and encouragement. However, the Christian community often over looks one important fact: those children grow up. Kid you not!

In the United States alone, people with disabilities make up over 56.7 million strong; roughly 19 percent of the population. We spend little time understanding their role as a productive individual (life and Work.)  Many people with disabilities acquire professional degrees that prepare them for professional careers.  They build relationships and start their own families. Yes, just like you.

However, in many cases, the road is long and difficult. This road starts in early childhood when the child becomes self-aware that they are different than other children. They may become the target of neighborhood or school yard bullies. They become in short, “the odd duck in the crowd.” The odd duck perception is carried with them throughout their lives, real or perceived.

In my work as an employment specialist for Abilitylinks.org, a web based job board for professionals with disabilities, the one issue we deal with on a day to day bases is the perceived awkwardness’ of the disability and how to disclose in the interview or hiring process.

I ask why does the secular media take the lead in many of these issues?
Diagnosis of the patient:
Could the real problem be that many in church leadership are holding on to old stereotypes so that it is easier to focus on families and children instead of talking directly to adults in the disability community. Do we as a church really feel comfortable with a dialogue with the disability community. If not, why not?

I grew up believing the church of Jesus Christ offered the better way. However, many times in reality the  church seems to have to be brought along. I ask WHY?

We as Christ’s disciples are designed to be instruments of change with innovative programs that challenge each of us to examine our own biases and perceptions about others that are different than ourselves.

The Disability ministries are fine however, what is needed in the Church setting today is a conversation with people with disabilities instead of about people with disabilities.  The topics covered need to address bias and perceptions of people with disabilities and how we as a redeemed people can facilitate change in attitudes and perceptions. People with disabilities want to be accepted for their strengths and accomplishments and not labeled by their weaknesses. The question for the church is one of honest assessment of our role in the world. 

I am reminded of this preschool rhyme Here’s the church, here is the steeple, open the door and there are the people. The people are instruments of change: employers, coworkers, civic leaders, politicians, neighbors, friends etc. that move society in one direction or another.

It is a difficult road. Individuals with disabilities will get there one step or one role at a time. We as follows of Christ can help make it a little less intimidating and by doing our part to insure a more accepting environment for all. Imagine a world in which there is acceptance for all despite our differences!

The Hollies “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”Youtube

 I welcome your comments on this timely subject. You may contact me at janiceduvall@Comcast.net





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