Tag Archives: Inclusive Language


Rev. Dr. Troy Troftgruben, WTS Assistant Professor of New Testament:

Welcome to our first convocation of the academic year. “Convocations” happen here at Wartburg at various times on topics that require—not simply disseminating information—but face-to-face conversation. These topics are typically not cut-and-dry issues, but matters of evolving, ongoing, dynamic conversation.

For many years Wartburg has hosted a convocation on “inclusive language.” This convocation is similar, but broader in focus. It entails not only concerns pertinent to inclusive language but also concerns pertinent to behavior and actions that foster genuine inclusion of “the other.”

Our language and our behavior do things, especially in community: by our words and actions, we consciously and unconsciously assume certain norms, characterize ourselves and our community ethos, and establish what is “normal,” acceptable, and appreciated. Sometimes we are deliberate about our words and actions, sometimes not so much.

This morning we have 6 individuals who will each speak for about 2 minutes on a particular issue that pertains to becoming an inclusive community.

– Hannah Benedict (concerning gender)
– Norma Cook Everist (concerning disabilities)
– Mack Patrick (concerning transgender)
– Stan Olson (concerning inclusive language for God)
– Gus Barnes (concerning race and sexual orientation)
– Susan Ebertz (concerning denominational backgrounds)

Afterward, we will dialogue with each other at our tables.

Hannah Benedict, Final Year M.Div. Student: 

I don’t think much about my gender. I don’t have a constant internal track going, “I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman.” I say this fully aware that as I say that, I wear a particular piece of attire typically attributed to one gender–yep, high heels, those tortuous devices woman can wear. But I don’t wear high heels because of my gender. I wear them because of my 5’3″ height. It’s logistics folks! I truly don’t pay attention to my gender much, until a moment about which I’m going to tell you:

At the end of internship, a congregation member came up to me with what she thought would be a compliment. She said, “At first we didn’t know how a lady intern would do, but you did great, honey!” Her pleasant surprise was my harsh realization. Not only might I need to consider my gender, but that others could see my gender as a detriment.

She wasn’t the first to share such reactions. Others, mostly women and women my age, shared similar reactions, “You wanna be a what? Sweetie, don’t you know you’re a lady?”

It’s not that I don’t know my gender. I am fully aware of it and others of my kind. I’m one of three sisters, (an aunt two nieces; women outnumber men in my family). I attended a women’s college—go Suzies—and chaired the feminist group. I got that I was a woman, through and through. But what I didn’t get was how this somehow made me any less effective or valuable.

Being a woman never stopped me from doing all that God called me to do. Being a woman never stopped me from being compassionate, courageous, strong, determined, and dedicated. Instead, being a woman, surrounded and supported by them, taught me how to be all these and more. My gender provides a particular perspective, one no less important than any other. From this vantage point, I can see who God makes me through the Holy Spirit in Christ.

In Christ, we are no longer male/female, gentile/Jewish, enslaved/free. We are God’s.  Gender may be part of my identity but it is not all of it. Yes, I’m a lady—and a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and, occasionally I wear heels.  But I am first and foremost a child of God.

Rev. Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church Administration and Educational Ministry: 

I’m Norma Cook Everist, addressing living together with our abilities and disabilities. We are all differently abled. Wartburg is a caring community where people try to live thoughtfully, respectfully and in solidarity with people with disabilities.

How can we do this even better?

By really seeing each person, rather than pretending not to notice. By asking, rather than presuming a person’s need: “What is helpful to you?”

By using person-first language: Not “a blind person” but a “person who is blind.” I have a disability; I am not my disability.

And by using inclusive language in worship. Our ELW does not say, “Please stand,” words hard to hear for those who cannot. Thomas Schattauer and Melissa Waterman encourage us to motion with our hands when the congregation is to stand. People with disabilities who were on the hymnal planning committee encouraged, “The Assembly stands,” an inclusive phrase which means the congregation stands for those who cannot. We’ve been doing pretty well this fall. It is important we remember as we are formed as leaders for an inclusive church.

Inclusive language matters: So we motion, or we say, “The assembly stands,” or we say, “Please stand as you are able.”

Nicholas Rohde and I conferred, discovering we’ve both been tempted to respond when we hear, “Please stand”: “No thank you, I can’t.” Let’s try that. I’ll say, “Please stand,” and you respond, “No thank you. I can’t.” [The people at tables did.] Now say after me: “The Assembly stands.” [“The Assembly stands.”] “Please stand as you are able”   [“Please stand as you are able.”]

Thank you very much.

Mack Patrick, 1st Year M.Div. Student:

To start this conversation off, one must understand a few basic things about transgender. The first is that transgender is commonly spelled as trans*; this is an important piece in the trans* experience. The asterisk represents that trans* is a spectrum covering a wide variety of experiences. Some are a bit more clear-cut than others. There is the complete change over: Female to Male or Male to Female, but there is also the non-conforming, non-identifying side of gender.

Along with recognizing that trans* is a spectrum—and you may not always know how someone fully identifies—it is important to realize trans* are still people. Asking if they have surgery, or inquiring more about their chosen gender, is not cool and rather offensive. No one cares about your private parts. You should not ask those questions of those who are trans*. That is a private matter.

Pronouns identify who we are on a paper form, but correct use of pronouns is also a good way to show someone that you care about them and want them to be included in a community. While society has focused on the popular pronouns of male and female, there are yet two other known sets of pronouns that someone may identify with. One of those other sets is the gender neutral set. It is commonly used with individuals who do not identify with a specific gender. [This set includes:] Ze (zee) commonly referred to as the subject, Hir (here) known as the object and possessive adjective, and Hirs (heres) for the possessive pronoun. While these are not commonly known and used, as the popularity and acknowledgment of the gender-neutral pronoun grows, they will be used more often. It is completely acceptable to ask people what pronouns they prefer.

For someone who identifies as trans*, asking about pronouns is a great first step. Admitting that you have no clue what to do or say is good, but first and foremost ignore their gender and focus on the person. I know that hearing the correct pronouns being used when talking about me, is huge, as acceptance is growing. Even though I identify as trans*, I feel full included and accepted in the Wartburg Community. Inclusion starts with the ability to recognize you may encounter individuals in your community that are different from you. Take the first step and get to know them as a person.

Rev. Dr. Stan Olson, WTS President:

My privilege today is to talk with you a little about language for God. The topic of this convocation is inclusive language. I could talk about inclusive language for God, pointing to the importance of speaking of God in ways that allow all to be included.

I’ve given that talk. However, over the years I’ve concluded that it’s far better to speak of expansive language for God or, simply, appropriate language for God. Speaking appropriately of God is an expression of faithfulness.

Sixty years ago, J. B. Philipps wrote a book titled, Your God Is Too Small. He challenges the reader to think more expansively about God as made known in Jesus Christ, to embrace the depth of meaning. The book was very important in shaping my early thinking. I recently reread it and can’t now say that I commend the book to you. I do, however, commend the title. Let that title push you firmly as you do theology, preach, teach, counsel, write, and pray—your God is too small.

To embed this push in your thoughts, I invite you to shift from the second person pronoun and use this as a response: Our God is too small. Say it with me now, Our God is too small, and then in response.

If we speak of God using only a few of the words and images available, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the New Testament, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the Hebrew Bible, Our God is too small.

If our talk of God uses only masculine images and pronouns, or only feminine images and pronouns, or only combinations, Our God is too small.

If we limit our language for God only to words actually used in the Bible and neglect the church’s rich history of devotion and thought, Our God is too small.

If we casually and carelessly use familiar hymnic and devotional language that conveys limited or false images of God, Our God is too small.

If the God we convey seems distant and unknowable for any to whom we speak, Our God is too small.

If we think that God is ours alone, Our God is too small.

If we ever allow ourselves to think that we have arrived at language that is finally and completely appropriate, Our God is too small.

God is not too small!

Gus Barnes, 3rd Year M.Div. Student: 

I am Gus Barnes Jr. I am one of a kind, created by God and my parents. I am a fifty-three year old man in seminary. I am a tax-payer. I am a product of the sixties. Here is the shocker surprise: I am an openly Gay African American man. In my time in this temporal place we call earth, I have had many doors shut in my face because of the things that describes who Gus is. Here at Wartburg Seminary I assume when people speak of Gus being Gay, it’s because often I am happy as Gus; I am welcomed here as Gus.

I am thrilled to have lived a lifetime to see a Black President in office, and this week I met the ELCA’s first openly Gay Bishop. The ELCA has struggled with sexuality issues. And after its decision in 2009 to be more open to gays and lesbians serving in ministerial leadership, it has lost many congregations. Sadly I am reminded daily when I look in the mirror as I prepare my day that I need to ask,”What doors will be opened, and which doors will be shut because of who Gus is?” Spend some time to get to know me and others. I promise if you stay out of my closet, I’ll stay out of yours!

Susan Ebertz, Director of the Reu Memorial Library and Assistant Professor of Bibliography and Academic Research:

I’m speaking on inclusion of a variety of denominational backgrounds. I think that there is only one student here who is not Lutheran and she is a TEEM student. I think I am the only faculty member who is not Lutheran. There are a number of the staff who are not Lutheran. I mention this because sometimes it is easy for some of us to forget that not all of us are Lutheran.

At one time we had more non-Lutherans here. The other faculty member and the students would talk with me about some of their experiences. I’m not at liberty to share those stories. It wasn’t a secret club but it did create a bond between us.

I don’t think that the difference in denominational backgrounds is as hurtful as other sorts of discriminations. If we all realize that not everyone speaks Lutheranese and not all of us believe Lutheran theology, we go a long way into including those of other denominations.

I know that some of you grew up in a different denomination and the transition to Lutheran theology may be difficult. I think it is important for you to know and understand Lutheran theology and to live into that. That is okay. That is not what I’m talking about.

Many of you will be ministering in communities where you will need to work with ecumenical partners. Understanding what they believe or how they “do worship” can be an important learning experience while you are in seminary. Figure out ways to experience that.

If you want to talk more, I welcome conversation with you.

Table Question for Communal Conversation:

  1. When have you experienced “exclusion” in a community or church setting?
  2. What practices have you observed to be some of the most helpful for facilitating authentic inclusion and openness in faith communities? How have they worked?
  3. As leaders, how can we go about being allies or advocates in the communities we serve for inclusion concerning some of the issues named this morning?
  4. As leaders, what do you think will be some of the most pressing issues of inclusion for which we will need to be advocates in our unfolding ministries?

You may also appreciate the following previously published posts:

INTERCESSORY PRAYERS FOR IMMIGRANT LABORERS by Rev. Minna Quint, WTS 2014, Capital Hill Lutheran, Des Moines, IA

For hands that work all day and night on property they will never own
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

For backs that are twisted and bent working in fields that just go on and on
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

For fingers that are red and swollen from picking a harvest they will never consume
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

For shoulders that carry burdens which reside in their muscles leaving knots that cannot be untied
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

For brows burning in the heat of an unforgiving sun begging for a single cloud
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

For knees that ache so heavily night after night they prevent any chance of sleep
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

For ears that refuse to listen and turn away another’s plea
For eyes that choose dominion over every creature they see
For minds that cannot understand what it means to have equality
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

CONFESSING AND PRAISING WITH ONE VOICE by Jean E. Peterson, Region V Archives Volunteer

Let US give our thanks and sing our praise to the Lord!

“O come let US worship and bow down

Let US kneel before God our Maker

Let US rejoice with Thanksgiving

Let US give our Thanks

Let US sing our praises (with ONE Voice!) in gratitude for God’s great gifts of Grace and Mercy for US.

Let US SING unto the Lord with grateful hearts!

We Lutherans have a rich heritage of hymns from many sources, but as I listen and learn, I am increasingly conscious that many of the hymns we sing in community worship use “God and me” words.   These are appropriate for private devotion and personal use.  Many of my own favorite hymns are included among them; but it bothers me to use “God and me” language in public worship.

We heartily sing hymns of praise and thanksgiving together.  “Let us talents and tongues employ,” “Now thank we all our God!”; “Halleluiah!  We sing Your Praises,” “Let us go now to the Banquet.”

But when it comes to confessing our weaknesses, we are not always quite so bold as to claim that we all are sinners weak and vulnerable.  When the Service Book and Hymnal came out in 1958, our Sunday morning liturgy included Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

“Chief of Sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me” … is the hymn I resonated to most in my young adult years, because I was absolutely convinced that I alone was the Chief of Sinners.

I recall a sermon by Dr. Nessan a number years ago, in which he said, “If you think your neighbor doesn’t have any problems, you don’t know your neighbor very well.”

Several years later, I said to a trusted pastor, “I am weak, but you are strong.”   His reply was, “Don’t say, ‘I am weak, you are strong.’  Say, “WE are weak.  WE are strong.’”

I once audited a course in human nature.  I learned that our need for forgiveness from our weaknesses is a “human universal.”

Although I may not know what is going on in your life when I sit next to you in chapel or in church, I do know that Grace is for all of us; and all of us in the assembly share praise andthanksgiving for the One who has given us all merciful grace and forgiveness.  Whether we’re asking mercy and forgiveness, seeking help or healing in our vulnerability, or whether we are offering Praise and Thanksgiving with hearts overflowing with joy and happiness, or whether we are treading our daily routine in relative calm and stability (for the moment, at least!), I like to be aware of those surrounding me in this place, as well as for others throughout theworld outside our walls.

We come from classroom, office, workspace, or outside, as individuals with personal needs, but when we gather together in the sanctuary to worship, we are no longer a collection of individuals.  We are now a community all singing and sharing together – our Kyrie, our Praise, our Thanksgiving.  We are now in relationship with each other, singing, praying, praising with one voice.   As a community, no matter what our individual needs may be, we are together, confessing our sin and professing our faith.  I am in a relationship with you because you are sitting next to me, even though I may know nothing else about you.  I do include you in my worship, by virtue of the fact that we are worshipping together as one body

Because God’s Grace isn’t just for me, but is for everyone (at any level in growth, healing, or maturing in the faith), our hymns and our prayers should include all of us.

So don’t be surprised to hear me sing “we” and “us” instead of “I” and “me” in worship,   even when “we-us” words don’t rhyme with the written “me-I” text of the hymn.

“Jesus loves US, this WE know, for the Bible tells us so!”

“Jesus, remember US when You come into Your Kingdom.”



Language and practice do things. They are performative. They have an impact on others. Think of words like “I love you!” or “I forgive you,” or “I don’t like you.” All such words, and accompanying actions change the people addressed.

Christians are called by God to see and hear the needs of our neighbors—the needs of all those we should treat as neighbors. One of our neighbors’ great needs is that we treat them as children of God, equally children of God with us. It is part of our Christian vocation to consider how our language and our practices will include or exclude those around us. Our calling is to seek to be sure that our words and actions have effects in accord with our belief that God’s community includes everyone.

My five colleagues will give us glimpses of how this concern is expressed in particular arenas of language and practice.


These five areas of life are important ones for attending to whether our language and practices follow God’s inclusive love or create exclusion. We should think and talk also about other equally important areas such as age, sexual orientation.

I invite you now to discussion around your table. As often in life, there is no assigned leader, so I ask you each of you to take responsibility for assuring that everyone at your table is included in this conversation about inclusion.

GENDER INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE By Carina Schiltz, 2nd Year MDiv

“Gender inclusive language”. I know what you’re thinking. “HEY, WE’VE GOT A WOMAN BISHOP. WE’RE GOOD TO GO! The ELCA is all about being gender-inclusive, not only in language, but in the life of the church.” Good point. We do have a woman bishop. However, not everything in the world is gender-inclusive. There are some pretty powerful messages out there about gender that still have to be exposed, acknowledged, and talked about. So to illustrate all this, here’s a little story from the top 10 most awkward moments from, “The Life and Times of Carina Schiltz”.

This past summer I was hanging out with two of my CPE colleagues at a department store. They happened to be men, Catholic, and soon to be priests. We’re all about the same age, and we were on a very important mission: find some Packers stuff. We found what we wanted and then just wandered around. But then, it happened: the moment of awkwardness to end all moments of awkwardness.

As we came around a corner of the department store, we saw the men’s’ sport coats, and suddenly our retinas were scorched by the most neon bras and underwear I had ever seen in my life. I mean, it BURNED. These unmentionables were placed conveniently across the aisle from the suit coats. Can you imagine that image? Suit coats. And scanty, lacy, neon lingerie facing each other across the aisle. And there we were IN THE MIDDLE. ME AND TWO CELIBATE YOUNG MEN. ARGH!

Instantly I went into defense mode. What should I do? Should I distract the guys? “Hey, uh, look over here. These suit and tie combos sure are spiffy, huh?” Or should I pretend like I don’t see the undergarments? Or should I make a joke out of it? Or should I just run away screaming? Or should I just stand here and let my face get red?

Then the ontological questions started coming. What is this telling me about who I’m supposed to be as a woman, and who they’re supposed to be as men, and how they’re supposed to view me and how I’m supposed to view them?  What does this tell us about our identity?

Then my theological brain kicked in: thank you, Wartburg Seminary. What is this, what’s the angle here, what is this playing to? What does this say about the human condition? Ok, I see neon bright colors…where have I seen these colors before? I’ve seen traffic cones that color orange, and that green/yellow color I’ve seen road construction workers wearing so they don’t get hit by motorized vehicles….Oh, I get it! LOOK AT ME! SEE ME! THAT’S what this is saying. SEE ME. Please tell me that I’m worth something! SEE ME! INCLUDE ME! Look, I bought these clothes, please tell me I’m worth at least that! Include me! Look how hard I’m trying to live up to society’s expectations of what it means to be a man or a woman. See me!

We’ve all said this. We’ve all looked for inclusion.

We’ve resorted to so many things to make people see us. Here, it was the promise of salvation through clothing that appeal to people who feel passed over by the world. At least they’ll be seen. And so the stereotypes of what women and men are supposed to wear and notice about each other continue…and they were right in front of our faces.

How do we see people? Do we expect them to be “clothed” as society would have them? NO. We’re taught something a different here. When people say SEE ME, INCLUDE ME, we say “yes, we DO SEE YOU. And you are clothed IN CHRIST. You don’t need to wear neon, or suits….WE SEE YOU. You’re worth it because Christ makes you worth it.” That’s the language we use when we’re being inclusive.

We know our identities aren’t found in any of this stuff, it doesn’t make us a woman or a man. We know we don’t have to live up to society’s expectations of beauty, power, etc to show that we’re “worth it”. We are worth it because Christ makes us worth it.

But the world still catches us in that image of awkwardness, standing between those racks of clothing. In our society, the message of the gospel is often drowned out by the message of consumerism, success, and accumulation of wealth/beauty/power.  We speak inclusively to combat those misleading messages.

Inclusive language isn’t just about speaking. It’s about seeing. Do we dare to see beyond the stereotypes and expectations of the world of what it means to be a man or woman? And then, to we dare to speak it to the world, through our words and actions? Do we speak of others’ dignity and worth?  I pray that the Holy Spirit gives all of us the gift of sight, and also the gift of courage and speech, that God’s will may be done, and the church is a place where every woman and man are SEEN, and welcomed, and included. NO NEON NECESSARY.

WHAT DOES YOUR FAMILY LOOK LIKE? By Rhia Fry Wilkin Strohm, Final Year M.Div.

There are words that are common among all yet can bring about many different images and definitions.  Words such as “single,” “married,” or “family” are common enough but I am reflecting on how these roles or categories are changing and the inclusiveness of who identifies with them, and the importance of hearing the stories behind them.

I have identified myself with all of these labels:  single, married, family but maybe in different ways than one might expect. Sharing my own story may help others pause and think differently, and possibly celebrate their own identities.

When I began my seminary experience some three and half years ago, I believe I was the only person on campus who was a single parent.  My three children were ages fifteen, twelve, and ten.  We had gone through a painful divorce four years before.  It is a strange, almost in-between identity.  Single but yet divorced. When I would fill out the forms at the doctor, the options were: single, married or divorced.  I would often stop and wonder, “Why the difference?”  I mean if one is single he or she is not married? And if one is married, he or she is not single—so why the option of divorced?  What about widowed?  Why are only some “sub categories” included?  Is this being negative or inclusive?  This place of single, divorced parent—there really wasn’t a place that I felt I fit.  I was invited to attend FWS (Fellowship of Wartburg Spouses) which I did, and I met some lovely people, but I clearly still felt I didn’t fit into the “normal” categories.

I remember a time when my sister who lives in San Diego and her family came to visit us in Colorado for Christmas.  We all piled into the vehicles to go to Christmas Eve service, my three kids and me, my sister, her two boys and her husband and our parents.  After worship, my sister was asked if her children were adopted.  This may seem harmless in itself, but it was painful for my sister.  You see, my sister’s husband is Chinese-American and their two boys are of Eurasian descent.  So many times well intentioned people express themselves in ways that are exclusive, primarily based on cultural stereotypes.  It is painful for the one who is labeled.

I had instances where well-intentioned people would ask about my absent husband.  At the school parent-teacher conferences, teachers politely asked if we should wait a few more minutes for my husband.   I replied politely, “There is no husband.”  Financial aid advisors asked what my husband’s gross income was. Again I would politely say, “There is no husband.”  Sadly enough, there was a time at church when my children were young and quite energetic, when, although no direct words were spoken, looks of frustration and judgment seemed to be saying, “Those kids need a father to keep them in line. . .”  All were very painful times for me, because you see, I worked very hard to raise my family on my own.  I supported “my family” all by myself. There was no help from this mysterious husband and to imply that this single parent could survive only through someone else was painful.  My family looked different, but I would have to think that once one heard our story, we really were not much different from any other family.

Now three and half years later, my family has changed again.  I have been blessed by God to be married again.  Now I have three biological children, two step children and a step grandson.  My children have three sets of grandparents.  My children have different last names than I do.

The most important point I want to convey is how important it is to take the time to listen to the stories of other people.  Situations are not always what they may look like on the outside. I guarantee there is always a story.  Not everyone will fit into the same “normal.” Not everyone fits into the categories that society creates, but it does not make their identity any less.

Single, married and family these days come in all kinds.  As in all relationships, what is important is how we care for one another, how we love each other, who we are because of each other.  I invite and challenge people to open, to broaden formerly stereotypical categories of families and single and married people.  Invite all.  Include all. Welcome all.   Take the time to know the person and hear their story.

INTERVIEW WITH NICHOLAS ROHDE By Michelle Kanzaki, Final Year MDiv

People are viewed in so many different ways in today’s world. Every Christian is called to reveal Christ’s love in how they see people in this world. I am focusing on inclusion for people who live with disabilities.  We automatically know that someone who wears glasses, a hearing aid, uses a cane, crutches, or wheelchair requires some consideration. But there are also invisible disabilities such as a heart condition, cancer, colitis and migraines. Yet, none of these conditions make a difference in who the person is on the inside.

My disability happens to be a Muscle Disease called Myasthenia Gravis. I try not to let it slow me down, but for me to play basketball, run a race, or even jog is an impossible challenge. During class, sometimes my eyes will cross and it will be difficult to see even with my glasses. If I am writing or typing for an extended period of time my hand will lose it’s grip or my fingers will stiffen leaving me unable to continue. Having fallen down a flight of fifteen stairs to a cement floor more than once, I avoid stairs at all costs. So today, I will clarify some important ways you can view me and another Wartburg student, Nicholas Rohde a little more inclusively.

Michelle: What brought you to Wartburg?

Nicholas:  “Here is the first place where I have lived where my disability is not a significant portion of who I am…yes it is still part of me, but I am accepted for who I am and not for who I appear to be. People at Wartburg see the essence of who I am. I’m 99% sure that they describe me as Nikolas Rohde, MDiv First year student from Rochester, Minnesota. My disability would not be a necessary part in their description of me. It would be more like an afterthought or at the most one of the last things people here would say about me. I like that the people of Wartburg talk about my personality and how they see me as a whole person.”

Nicholas went on to say that the most important thing is the way you respect him. “Treat me the same way you would treat anyone else. Don’t placate me. Be authentic and genuine with me. I can tell the difference. Be natural, it’s ok if you do something for me, like open a door if you have a free hand and I will help you when I can. Sometimes people on campus will forget that I have a disability and it becomes invisible to them. Then they say something or ask me to do something and all of the sudden they are embarrassed because they forgot.

Michelle: So do you appreciate it when people forget that you have a disability?

Nicholas: “It is not a simple yes or no answer. I want people to forget about my disability, but the reality is that it is still there and I still need help at times. I might require something different from 99% of the people in the room but, in that moment, do what is necessary to assist me as you would any other human being. Don’t make a big deal of it, just do it. In all the other moments when my disability doesn’t matter, then IT DOESN’T MATTER!”

Michelle: Is it all right with you if someone asks questions about how to be authentic and respectful of you?

Nicholas: “Yes, if you don’t know then ask, otherwise, if you assume the wrong thing you may appear to be disrespectful. This does not mean that you need to ask me about every little thing that comes up, but be authentic. If I don’t like what you are asking or implying by the question, trust me you will know. (He says with a wry smile.)

Michelle: How do you feel about people asking you about your disability?

Nicholas: I don’t have a problem with people asking about my disability, but I do struggle when a child might ask their parent about my disability and their response is shhhhhbe quiet, that’s not nice. This reaction makes the subject of disability a taboo. It’s interesting, I have two nephews who just know me as Uncle Nicholas. They are really young but they haven’t seemed to notice that I am different from them. So I wonder when they will realize our differences are more significant than my being just Uncle Nicholas. I wonder if it will change our relationship in any way.

Michelle: What else would you like people who read this know about you and other people with disabilities?

Nicholas: First, let me give you my disclaimer. (Perhaps this should have gone at the beginning of this interview) How people treat me is how I want to be included. I cannot speak for every person with a disability, I am just one of many. People have their own ways of viewing what is inclusive and respectful. Now on to my answer to your question. It is important for people to know that a person with a disability is not just taker but is also a giver. I believe all of us have needs. Some needs are physical, some emotional, some are mental, whatever. A relationship is something in which two people give and receive from one another, whatever it might be. In what I consider a friendship there is no I.O.U. involved! It is not a relationship where it is assumed that you do something for me. PERIOD. I do something for you. PERIOD. Friendship, relationship is built on mutual respect and trust and that is what I want in a relationship/friendship. Maybe just in an acquaintance/passerby that is not even a relationship. I just want to be seen as who I am Nicholas Rohde. Jesus sacrificed everything for us. Period. If there is a because, it is because of the wanting for a relationship, which all humans have and this could be the same thing, but a different word because of love.

Michelle: Thank you so much for your time Nicholas. I am looking forward to many more conversations with you.

For further information on how to include people with disabilities into your life check out these websites. http://www.tolerance.org/article/disability-awareness-were-it-together or http://www.uni.edu/equity/disability-etiquette.