Hello and thank you for participating in this disability simulation.
<<Introduce yourself and any training/experience you have around disability work>>
Before we dive into the disability simulation, let’s cover some basic terminology and theology as relates to disability. Then we will experience different disabilities through simulation stations. After the disability simulation we will come back together in this space to talk through what you experienced.
Let’s start with our terminology.
Impairment usually signifies an abnormality or loss of physiological form or function. For example, a damaged optical nerve would be impairment.
Disability describes the consequences of the impairment, which may be an inability to perform some task or activity. In this example, the disability might be an inability to see.
Handicap literally means “to hinder” or “to place at a disadvantage” and tells the disadvantage that results from an impairment or disability. A person is considered handicapped, for example, when the damaged optical nerve or the inability to see makes one unable to distinguish floor numbers on elevator buttons or know when to cross a busy street. Our hypothetical friend with the impairment of a damaged optical nerve would not be handicapped if the elevator buttons were marked in Braille and would not be disabled in the dark. (Disability and Christian Theology, pg. 13-14)
Disability is an open minority because it is a group that most us will “join” at some point in our lives. How many of you have ever had surgery or an injury and were unable to do some basic daily tasks afterward? How many of you wear glasses or contacts? How many of you have had an inner ear infection and the room started spinning when you went from sitting to standing quickly?
For many of us it is hard to accept that our own bodies have limitations and can at any moment not function as we expect it to due to injury or aging. When we work with persons who are impaired or have a disability, we want to make certain that they feel honored, valuable, and respected.
When we are referring to a person with a disability, we always use person first language that honors the person, their gifts, skills, and presence first before we name their disability. Instead of saying an “autistic kid” we would say a child with autism. Instead of saying a “blind man” we would say a man who is blind or has a visual impairment. Person-first language is extremely important to remember as it honors the person with whom or about whom you are speaking.
In a few minutes we will experience a disability simulation where you will be invited to learn about, engage with, and try out modifications for various disabilities, both visible and invisible.
<<Explain the stations you’ve set up, where they are, and introduce the table/station guides to the whole audience>>
You can move from station to station at your own pace. You do not need to complete all the stations by the time we come back together. We will have a full hour for you to experiment and experience all that we’ve set up for you. Also at each station, there are white roll papers that are your space to answer questions given to you, write down observations, and to ask questions. After the hour concludes, we will meet back in this space to talk through all you’ve experienced.
Full Group Debrief Following Disability Simulation:
Take a few answers to each of the following questions:
What did you experience?
What did you learn?
What is going to stick with you?
Let’s take a few moments and discuss how we experience disability in scriptures. Impairment or disability is mentioned in scripture numerous times and most times it is around the concept of healing.
When we look at Jesus working with persons with disabilities we see a few things. In Mark 7:31-34 we read of the disciples bringing a man who is deaf to Jesus asking that he lay hands on him and heal him. Jesus took the man to the side, away from the crowd, and spoke using hand gestures and touched the man to be able to communicate how he would be healing him. Likewise, in Mark 8:23, Jesus heals a man who is blind by taking his hand and leading him outside the city gates. Jesus spits on his eyes and puts his hands over them, then turns his head upward toward the sky. Jesus was willing to find a way to communicate with someone in a different way.
When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and the man who was lowered down through the roof and when Jesus cleanses the man with leprosy and many more of Jesus’ healing stories, we see over and over again Jesus is providing healing so that the person can be restored to the community. Many of the folks Jesus healed were ostracized from their community because of their illness or disability. Jesus wanted to make certain before he left each town that if he healed someone they could walk back to the temple or central market and be seen in a new way by those in the town who had previously ostracized the person. Jesus knew he couldn’t change the entire community to be accepting of persons with differences in the time he had, so he healed folks in a way where the community would welcome them back in. By providing welcoming and inclusive space, we and our church, can also provide healing of and healing by persons with disabilities and their families.
Jesus didn’t make persons with disabilities the poster child of the synagogue. Jesus treated each person as a beloved child of God, as a person with inherent dignity and worth, as a person with unique skills, giftings, and presence. Jesus honored that each individual with whom he worked wanted to belong, wanted to create, wanted to exist in the beautiful chaos of every day life with others. Don’t we all want that? To belong, to create, to be acknowledged for the depth of who we truly are and are becoming? Persons with disabilities do not need to become your project or your poster child for the church. What they need, what we all need, is to be able to fully participate in a vulnerable, honest, respectful community. Is your church that place?
Using Jesus example, when we prepare our churches to be safe, welcoming, and inclusive to families with disabilities, we are saying we will find diverse ways of communicating God’s everlasting love, we are committing to the creation of community where all persons are welcome, and we are creating space where all persons can fully participate using their unique skills, giftings, and presence.