AN INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE CONVOCATION TALK by Nicholas Rohde, MDiv Student

I am not disabled.  Let me say that again: I am not disabled.  I am not handicapped.  I am not crippled.  I am certainly not handicapable, whatever that means.  I am not a “gimp.” I am not a disabled person.  I am a person with a disability.  Person first, then disability.  Or maybe more accurately, person first, then my hair color, eye color, height, and about 20 other things that also don’t matter, then the fact that I am physically disabled (by definition).

Author Amos Yong writes about people with disabilities in relationship to the body of Christ.  Yong makes the argument that people with disabilities are equally made in the image of Christ, just as able-bodied persons, and are not people to be viewed as needing to be fixed, healed, or cured.

So, how can we be inclusive as fellow members of the body of Christ?  Personally, I think language, specifically body language, is the biggest and most powerful way to be inclusive of others.  Now, I’m not about to just give out a laundry list of Do’s and Don’ts because that doesn’t exist.  Literally every person is different.  Each person’s preferences are unique to them. Saying or doing one thing to another may offend one person, be appreciated by other, and have absolutely no effect on a third.

However, what I will tell you is to think.  Especially when planning something like worship, think about it.  Think about the physical space.  Can people with varying physical disabilities participate in worship with the way that the space is arranged? (For example Dr Nessan and I don’t use the same pulpit or podium because of our foot and a half height difference).   Are there ways for each worshipper to participate physically in the worship service, i.e. the standing, kneeling, and coming to the front for communion, being at the font?  And do those options make individuals feel a part of the assembly, or singled-out?

Listen to how people talk about themselves, and do your best to also speak about them or to them in the same manner.  ASK QUESTIONS!!! Don’t just assume things.  Yes, yes you will get things wrong from time to time.  Yes, you may annoy someone with the questions you ask, but if you treat them as a another member of the body of Christ, made in the image of God, it is better than assuming things about them as if they couldn’t decide for themselves.

Lastly, in all things, let there be forgiveness.  Being mindful and inclusive of one another is not a perfect science and therefore, we don’t always get it right.  There are times when we forget things, say the wrong thing, something slips our mind and we act incorrectly.  IT’S OK!!  Forgive one another and live life together as fellow members of the body of Christ.

2010 ADA Guidance Standards for Accessible Design

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