Our media has recently been flooded with anger and protests against racism and inequality and we as a nation should be outraged by what happened to George Floyd. But as a mother of an adult son with cognitive and physical challenges I mused that there is always one group that is still left out of the conversation. Even the unborn have a voice protesting for their right to live a full life.
People with physical and cognitive disabilities are still the most marginalized group in the world. The definition of marginalize is to treat a person or group as unimportant, insignificant or of lower status within a society. When we assume someone will act a certain way based on stereotypes about their identity – aspects such as race, gender, sexuality, disability. Discrimination against disabled people is both subtle and overt and often widely accepted and integrated into our society.
Raising one son with mild cerebral palsy and a daughter with dyslexia we have learned much about acceptance, advocating, educating, perseverance and inclusion. My daughters’ playmate asked me, “What’s wrong with his feet?” pointing to my son wearing the heavy leather and steel braces when he was little. Not an insult – just a question. I explained that he needed special shoes to help him walk and that was enough. When my daughter was five, she came in from playing with two neighbor boys and asked, “Mom, Danny is black and we are white. Right?” “Yes”, I answered as she ran back to play. Children see differences but learn prejudice or to marginalize and exclude.
I would highly recommend watching the movie “Wonder” the story of a 10 year old boy born with facial deformities. He was home-schooled due to his many surgeries but his parents feel it is time for him to join regular school and all that entails. The book is not written about an actual person but from a true experience of the author. When her children were small they saw a girl with a facial deformity at an ice cream store. One of her sons began to cry so she just turned and left in a hurry. The author was so mad at herself for reacting that way she wrote the book for 8-12 year olds to learn about prejudice, bullying, acceptance and friendship.
There are stories of marginalization in the Bible too as there were many reasons to be considered an outcast from society and often disability was thought to be a punishment. Sometimes this attitude remains in present day society.
Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” 3 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. John 9:1-3 (MSG) – The New Living Translation states, “so the power of God can be seen through him.”
While raising all three of our children we have “looked to see what God would do” and we have been blessed and amazed. We learned that some people just need to learn differently and need different tools to aid them – our daughter actually has the highest IQ in our family and earned a Masters degree in Special education. We have learned to see people and encourage abilities through sports thanks to involvement with Special Olympics. Our son sings bass and is included in our church choir on his own merit. I believe that because we have always looked to see what God can do – he was given the opportunity to sing the National Anthem at Fenway Park on Special Olympics night a few years ago. Yes, I am bragging but also praising God for something we could never dream of. I also realize that this is not a reality for the majority of persons living with disabilities. Daily life can be very difficult.
I am not an expert on diversity or inclusion but we can eliminate discrimination by changing our own perspectives first. It starts with you and me. Instead of seeing race, color or disability do we see a person first? The golden rule is to “do unto others as you would have them do to you” and if variety (diversity) is the spice of life, I can guarantee that inclusion will greatly enrich your life.