Friday, 3 December 2010

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Today (December 3rd) is, as the title suggests, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Like so many such days, it is quite likely to miss the radar of many, so I thought I would do my little bit for the cause!

Let me start with an absolute statement: we are all 'persons with disabilities'. However, those of us (and I am often guilty of this) who regard ourselves as 'able-bodied' feel distinct from 'those people' with perhaps more apparent ability issues. Inner finger-pointing is, I think, something that we have all been guilty of at least once.

I am involved, as you may know, with the Diocesan Council who serves the deaf, deafened and hard of hearing communities. I have a fair level of British Sign Language, and an awareness of life for those communities. I think that, in the main, they do ok existing in the 'hearing world', and would likely kick me from drawing the distinction between 'them and us' (there, I did it again). It seems that for the deaf community, church life is among the greater factors of exclusion [there are 2000 deaf, deafened and HoH Christians in this diocese alone, most of whom do not and cannot go to church - and why would they?].

I know of no churches who offer interpretation for their services, even to the level of subtitling. Yes, most have Loop systems, and that is great - but not a world of use for the profoundly deaf. Looking beyond the deaf community, I think that it would be difficult to attend most of our churches without sight, without the use of limbs, let alone some of the other factors that limit ability such as behavioural conditions, and so on. 

Churches are rather lovely for the reasonably able-bodied; tickety-boo if you can see, hear and walk. Often, our old and most beautiful temples are the culprit - but that doesn't make it alright. Christians will fight tooth and nail to ensure that a Patagonian yak farmer gets a fair price for his yak-juice, but seem to miss the point when, for example, my mate Rob, a deaf man, finds it impossible to worship his God with others in the county where he lives. Perhaps a  designated day that could in fact apply to every one of us could encourage us to look with honesty and candour at the 'service' our churches offer.

...then do something about it, perhaps?


  1. Quite right, so we should. I suspect, though, that the fashionable view that "we are all persons with disabilities" does not encourage people to do something about the accessibility of our churches (and other social institutions).

    It is, sensu stricto, true that we are all "differently abled", to use another very damaging phrase. But the point is that that some people's abilities don't allow them to access things - they are, in common-sense terms, disabled. It is because someone cannot hear that I might have a duty to go the extra mile to ensure he can follow the liturgy, and the emphasis on his inability to hear will prompt me to do it.

  2. I hadn't thought of it in the terms you describe, but it is a helpful observation that you make. Yes, I agree, to ally in equality removes a need to resolve, so perhaps 'guilty as charged'.

    Yes, focus on those who are left out in the cold by dint of their abilities, that is key.

    As part of my work, I attended a deaf-community coffee morning - an experience I will never forget. In that moment I was disabled, isolated and frankly, sat there feeling stupid because I was on the outside looking in.

  3. Yes, I've noticed the same (two people, presumably deaf, talking in sign language on a bus). A salutary lesson!

  4. Liverpool cathedral do a play and pray, messy church with sign language, my sister's church in Belfast interprets the service every week, there are numerous Churches that use sign, spring harvest and Keswick also provide sign language and Keswick even have a special stream for deaf people.



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