What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-14-20
I had two experiences in the last two weeks that changed my perspective on the accessibility movement for people with disabilities: 1) I listened to a podcast on the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act; 2) I had my regular visit to the audiologist.
I’m writing to this topic not only because of these experiences but also because I’m wondering if a part of our vision for the future of First Congregational Church of Granby might be reaching individuals with special needs and their families. I’ll explain, but first my recent experiences.
Did you know there was such a thing as “ugly laws?” I didn’t. That was one of the shocking things I learned listening to the history of the ADA.
In the United States a number of cities in the 19th century enacted laws that prohibited beggars, poor people, people with mental illness, and people with disabilities from public spaces. An 1881 Chicago law read as follows:
Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, or an improper person to be allowed in or on the streets, highways, thoroughfares, or public places in the city, shall not therein or thereon expose himself or herself to public view, under the penalty of a fine of $1 for each offense (Chicago City Code 1881).
“An improper person” . . . What a telling line. I had always assumed that the need for making public spaces accessible arose from the ignorance of the able-bodied people designing the spaces. I didn’t realize that the lack of accessibility also arose from a feeling much deeper than that: disgust, embarrassment, that uncomfortable feeling that arises when one encounters someone with obvious physical differences that remind us of the fragility of our own bodies. I am aware of having those feelings myself, for example, when I encounter an amputee or someone with severe mental or physical challenges–particularly, if I haven’t met them before. There is a little moment of adjustment as my mind shifts to encountering this person whose ways of moving through the world are different from mine.
The disabilities movement isn’t only about access to public spaces. The disability movement is saying, “We want you to see us. We are human beings with intrinsic worth. We will not be ashamed of who we are.” This new (for me) perspective resonated with me. I can now see connections with other civil rights movements: racial justice, LGBTQIA+ movements, and women’s movements, for example.
It also helped me understand the conversations I’ve had again and again with my audiologists over the years. Every time I go in for a new pair of hearing aids (like I did two weeks ago) I get to choose a “color.” There are usually six or seven colors to choose from. Five or six of the colors are different shades of beige, brown, or black–to match skin tone or hair color. But there’s always one color that’s bright. I remember when years ago I chose electric blue. It created quite a bit of consternation for my audiologist and even my family. A few years later I chose emerald green. Once again my audiologist said, “Wouldn’t you rather match your hair?” My newest pair is “sporty red.” Now instead of asking, “Why did you choose that color?” my family asks, “What color did you get!” But my audiologist still somehow felt obligated to ask, “Don’t you want something less visible?”
Learning the history of the ADA and the “capitol crawl” demonstration of 1990 taught me that visibility is the point. I invite you to watch the video of Jennifer Keelan, who at 9-years-old got out of her wheelchair, crawled up the steps of the Capitol Building, and changed the world.
I also invite you to follow the links below for videos of an inspiring weekly worship service called “Parable” developed by Wayzata Community Church, a UCC in Minnesota.
The service is designed with differently abled people and their families in mind. The joy is infectious. I know it’s difficult to plan during COVID time, but I find this time is a great opportunity to dream. It might seem like a heavy lift for our little church to do something like “Parables,” but perhaps if we partnered with South Church and maybe even East Granby?
In his famous hymn to love the Apostle Paul wrote, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.”
To be seen and known is to be loved. When we see each other with all of our brokenness and beauty, a new world is possible.