“I’m a person not a condition”

Joni Eareckson Tada on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

‘As I sat on the White House lawn 20 years ago and watched President George H.W. Bush sign the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, I knew it was a grand day for disabled people. However, I also knew that we still had a long way to go.

‘Much like the civil rights legislation of the ’60s, I recognized that the president’s signature might change physical accommodations, but it would take more than that to change hearts and minds.

‘While I could now roll my wheelchair into buildings with ease, I still had a hard time getting people to look me in the eye and see me as a person rather than a condition. Even today, 20 years later, my wheelchair still makes people uncomfortable.

‘Why is that? For the most part, able-bodied, “healthy” people still fear disability. As a nation, we treat disabled people more equally and humanely than any country in the world. However, most Americans, when they encounter a disabled person, first think of themselves, “I hope that never happens to me.”

‘To me, that says we still have a long way to go toward recognizing people as people, no matter what they look, act, walk — or don’t walk — like.’

Read the rest here.

(HT: Scot McKnight)

2 Responses to “I’m a person not a condition”

  1. El Bryan Libre July 27, 2010 at 6:13 pm #

    Don’t some people not agree with the passing of that law? That’s the impression I got from watching Rand Paul in an interview and he seemed like he represented a certain group of people. Some see it as government overreach don’t they? I’m glad it got passed into law.

    “However, most Americans, when they encounter a disabled person, first think of themselves, “I hope that never happens to me.””

    I don’t think that, especially not first. The first think I may think is I wonder how does this person wants me to act towards them? It’s sort of that thing when you wonder whether you should open a door for a woman or let a women get on and off the elevator first. Or maybe whether you should tell someone bless you if you don’t know their attitude to saying bless you. That’s more along the lines of the first thing I think when meeting a disabled person.

  2. Charlton Connett July 27, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    Bryan,

    I am personally not all that thrilled about the Americans with Disabilities Act. I think that the act was an overstepping of the federal government into private businesses, requiring facilities to provide access regardless of the preferences of the owner of the establishment. I am even less happy with how the act has evolved, so that now there are instances where individuals can claim disability due to drug addiction and even certain levels of obesity.

    Just to make things clear, I write this as a man who grew up with a quadriplegic mother. My mother was paralyzed when I was a young boy and my family has made many sacrifices for her. I have wept at her bedside when she was sick and have celebrated with her for any number of events. I love my mother dearly, and any business that she would not be able to enter or shop in, due to poor accessibility, would lose my business when I am with her.

    I have been present as my father wrote letters to local businesses asking them to make handicap accessibility more of a priority, and have gone with him as he helped to build ramps for businesses who needed assistance in making sure their ramps were built properly. (I note that I attended all of these functions instead of actively performing them as I was a bit younger at that time and less able to actually help.) In all of that what I learned is that individuals in a community who have a real need will, more often than not, find that most in the community will gladly assist them in accommodating that need. Usually all it takes is someone who is willing to actually to the work and work to inform others about how the need can be addressed.

    Even now my mother still helps to inform people about how they can help the handicapped. When she got a new van, equipped with a locking mechanism for her chair, she notified the fire department in her area and brought the van to them, so they could see how it worked and what they would need to do in order to get a paralyzed person out of the van. That was the first time the fire department had even seen a van equipped like hers, most paralyzed people just do not think to show others how their equipment works.

    As for Mrs. Tada’s comments, I think she casts the net too narrowly. The first time most people meet a person who is different from them, for whatever reason, the difference is the first thing noticed. In the case of differences due to disease, infirmity, or disability, there is always the potential of fear, revulsion, pity, or even violence as we attempt to separate ourselves and distance ourselves from those we do not want to be like. But, while we may have a “long way to go” we will never reach where we need to be.

    We will never be as accepting and loving as we need to be as a nation because laws cannot mandate feelings. Our hearts are corrupt, and we will never find a way to fully overcome that. Exposure may dilute our feelings, but that is only because as we interact with the sick or disabled we no longer find them different. For us to really overcome our “initial reaction” we must be conformed to Christ.

    Only in a truly “Christian” society will we be able to look at anyone and everyone and see them all as our brothers and sisters. Only when all have come to Christ will we cease to see the differences. Only when all have come to maturity in Christ will we no longer have sinful reactions to the appearances of our fellow humans. And, as far as I can see from Scripture, this will only occur after our bodies are changed.

    That does not mean we do not now try to love everyone to the best of our ability, but it does mean that we recognize that are hope is not in laws or education or social constructs, it is in Christ. I do not mean to imply that Mrs. Tada feels any differently than I on this subject. I know that she was a great encouragement to my mother when she was first paralyzed.

    Apologies for the wall of text, this is a subject very close to my heart for what I hope are obvious reasons.

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