Having had a physical disability all my life has caused me to look at life and the people around me through a certain lens. I see things easily through the lens of doubt, fear and unfairness. Everyday I encounter people who doubt my intellect and my abilities. Everyday I see people who are scared of me and people like me because we are different. I feel that out of this fear has grown an inadvertent, and sometimes blatant, mistreatment of those who have disabilities on any point on the spectrum of severity of disability. People are overlooked for jobs, excluded from social circles, and sadly even the safe haven of churches has become an environment of exclusion for people with disabilities in some faith communities. I myself visited one church in which someone told me “we don’t have any people with disabilities here”. I have to admit that I was hurt by that statement. I wasn’t so much hurt for myself, because I’ve learned to let things slide and treat people with the same grace I wish to receive. But I hurt for those who have disabilities who may not know Christ, in which statements like that drive a wedge between them and The Gospel of Jesus. Few things make a person feel more unwanted than being in a room where few, if any people, understand them or are making effort to understand them. I can tell you first hand that’s what happens when people with disabilities are overlooked. Here are a few signs your church may be guilty of ableism:
If your church facilities make it hard for people with physical disabilities to navigate to places where activities are held, you may be guilty of ableism.
If your church body on Sunday mornings is disproportionately not representative of people with disabilities compared to other demographics, you may be guilty of ableism.
If your church body views the disabled community as a group that needs to be ministered to only and fails to see the spiritual gifts people with disabilities possess, you may be guilty of ableism.
If your Sunday Bible Class curriculum is not constructed with a disabled audience in mind, you may be guilty of ableism.
Statements like “we don’t have people with disabilities here” is ignorant and frankly is costing people with disabilities their souls because someone doesn’t want to take the time to realize the intrinsic value of that person. People with disabilities need Jesus just as much as their able bodied counterparts, and The Church needs people who are willing to share The Gospel with people with disabilities. I pray that The Church will one day look past this hurdle, because if we don’t then The Church will never be complete.