I often compare this moment in the kitchen with where I am on my journey of thinking about disability. This month I will finish my third year of seminary, with one more to go. The last two years have given me space and focused time to consider “disability”: the word, the reality, and the experience.
The word disability has become, in some ways, like the word spatula, to me. The prefix dis (to tear apart) implies some sort of break from ability or abledness. And terms that frequently surround disability in various contexts—-impairment, crippled, intellectual, developmental, cognitive, physical, acquired, spectrum, barrier, limitation, overcome (and on and on)—-have also had the “spatula effect” on my brain after awhile, tearing apart the familiar meanings I had previously assigned them.
Disability is an area of study that digs into common human experience, yet the experience of disability itself is diverse. We must listen carefully to stories and experiences in order to understand what the word disability means to someone who lives with it as a front-and-center reality of life. Such listening continues to be the largest part of my journey as a student—-a seminary student, yes, but also a student of what it means to be human!
My journey as a seminary student and simultaneously as an ADN Associate has included many opportunities for listening and input. As I have listened, the wisdom inherent in the stories of persons with disabilities, their families, professionals in the field, and more, has broadened my personal context and perspective, showcasing the breadth and depth of the diversity present within the disability world.
(Drawing courtesy Bob Keleman, Cleveland Institute of Art)
I have relished stories of the exciting developments in the area of
disability awareness that some refer to as a civil rights movement
within policy at the federal and state government levels. Even more
significantly, my thinking has been stretched by the ways the reality of
disability brings about shifts in social constructs and even in the way
we understand God.
Approaching disability from a theological perspective calls forth
questions related to theology and ethics. How we answer such questions
influences (and is often wedded to) how we approach pastoral care,
Christian education, and inclusion. The lived experience of disability
nudges us continually toward an inclusion that moves far beyond making
our churches physically accessible, to a sense of the table of Christ’s
fellowship open for all.
From the many stories of both struggle and celebration that I have been privileged to hear, and in some cases to be a part of, I know that we have a long way to go toward making a table for all in our congregations. We must continue to urge our congregations and institutions to move beyond accessibility (to quote author Brett Webb-Mitchell) and toward fuller inclusion. This means keeping a careful eye on the way we do things, always paying attention to who is not at the table.
Kathy Dickson is a member at First Mennonite Church of Bluffton (Ohio) and a graduate of Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She has been a Field Associate for Anabaptist Disabilities Network since 2010.